From supercharging extreme weather events to boosting the spread of infectious diseases, climate change is already having a huge impact on human health across the world. But this impact is not being felt equally. A growing body of research suggests that the world’s most disadvantaged people are also the most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change and the least likely to be able to adapt. Gender is just one of many factors that can influence a person’s standing in society.
An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies finds that women and girls often face disproportionately high health risks from the impacts of climate change when compared to men and boys.
The data comes from a 2016 research report on gender and climate change authored by Dr Sam Sellers, a climate change and health researcher formerly based at the University of Washington, and the report itself was commissioned by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, a UN-NGO alliance focused on gender and climate change. It showed that out of the 130 studies, around 68% (89) found that women were more affected than men.
Across the world, climate change is causing many extreme weather events (as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires) to become severe and the the death rates and injury of men and women during these events shows that how men and women are impacted depends on many factors.
In addition to raising the risk of death, extreme weather events can also raise the risk of injury and personal safety issues. The review finds that women are often disproportionately affected by many of these health impacts. For example, after Hurricane Katrina struck the US city of New Orleans and its surrounding areas in 2005, researchers found that women faced higher rates of partner violence and sexual assault.
Climate change is also affecting food insecurity across the world in fact rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are affecting crop yields, while extreme weather events, such as droughts, are causing unpredictable harvest losses. The review finds that in low- and middle-income countries, food insecurity can be strongly linked to poor health and can have a disproportionately large effect on the health of women.
Out of 14 studies examining links between climate change, food insecurity and health, 79% (11) found that women were more affected than men, because in many low- and middle-income countries, if there is less food available, men and male children get to eat more food.
Several infectious diseases that are known to be affected by climate change (as rising temperatures, sea level rise and ocean warming) are currently impacting men and women and it shows that men are often at a greater risk of being exposed to infectious diseases because they spend more time outdoors, but women can face heightened risks to take the malaria if they come into contact with contaminated water sources in and around their home.
The review included also 28 studies that examined links between climate change, mental illness and gender and showed that 19 found women were more likely to suffer from mental illness than men, and they also face a greater risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and emotional distress following extreme weather events.
Women and others that carry children are uniquely threatened by climate change’s impact on reproductive and maternal health in two main ways: it can raise the health risks for expecting mothers and foetuses, and it can limit access to reproductive and maternal health services.
These are the results of the conducted research but overall, there has been little research into the gendered impacts of climate change – making it difficult to draw firm conclusions, and there has been even less research into the health impacts of climate change for non-binary and transgender people.
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