Climate change compounds existing gender inequalities by eroding economic independence and reinforcing traditional gender roles, with dangerous consequences. Notwithstanding this, women are at the forefront of the environmental movement and are vital agents of climate action within their communities.
As climate change intensifies, so may gender inequality. The consequences of rising temperatures take a shocking toll on women’s rights by eroding their economic independence and increasing gender-based violence. At the same time, women are at greater risk of climate-induced displacement, while traditional gender roles can make them more vulnerable when disasters strike.
Despite these challenges, women are taking the lead on climate action. In the 2022 Australian federal election, a record number of women were elected to public office with this mandate, joining an environmental movement already filled with trailblazing women. While the stakes are high for women in a changing climate, they can be its greatest agents of change to safeguard the future of the planet.
Domestic and family violence increases dramatically in the wake of large-scale disasters…Floods and fires increase financial stress, instability and uncertainty.
— Joanna Quilty, CEO, NSW Council of Social Service
Relevant Sustainable Development Goals
Violence against women
A key driver of women’s inequality is domestic violence, which can escalate in the wake of large-scale disasters. Modelling commissioned by the NSW Council of Social Service and others found at least 60,000 women in New South Wales experienced domestic violence for the first time in 2020 — a direct result of the pandemic, compounded by the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires. Public health officials and service providers reported an increase in domestic violence directly following the 2019–20 bushfires and the 2022 Lismore floods. The 2009 Black Saturday blazes also saw higher rates of violence against women occur in areas more severely affected by fires, including within families where violence hadn’t been experienced before.
Globally, climate change heightens the risk of trafficking, child marriage and sexual assault for women and girls. Political instability and armed conflict arising from climate disaster and resource scarcity are also expected to threaten the safety and agency of women and girls.
In Australia, poverty disproportionately impacts women compared to men. At home and abroad, women earn less than men and comprise the poorest demographic. Economic disadvantage means women have less resources to cope with and adapt to climate change. As temperatures rise, more women will be pushed into poverty and will face greater risk of climate-induced displacement.
Disasters can quickly erode women’s economic independence, as shown by the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian women’s economic participation went backwards for the first time in years. Women lost their jobs more than men and shouldered the unpaid labour burden disproportionately through home schooling, domestic chores and caring for older adults. As climate change intensifies and environmental disasters increase in scale and frequency, this same dynamic is expected to play out.
Displacement & disadvantage
The economic inequality of women puts them at a higher risk of climate-induced displacement. There are more displaced people in the world now than ever before, and this is projected to increase as severe weather events and rising sea levels force people out of their homes. Displacement puts women and girls at much greater risk of violence and exploitation, and drastically lowers health and educational outcomes as school attendance goes down.
Entrenched gender roles mean during times of disaster, women often take care of children and older adults before themselves. This, compounded with financial disadvantage limiting access to adequate healthcare, means women are more likely than men to die in extreme weather events.
Women have also been left out of emergency management and decision-making
processes, so their needs are not embedded in plans and policies meant to protect them. For example, Australian bushfire management plans have not specifically addressed women’s bushfire awareness or accounted for family dynamics in terms of evacuation plans.
What funders can do
- Fund physical and mental health support that is tailored to women and gender diverse people facing climate impacts like floods, bushfires and droughts, including for several years post-event.
- Ensure skills, training and employment programs including preparing women and gender diverse participants for employment in the burgeoning and diverse clean economy.
- Support professional development programs for women to provide greater climate leadership within their organisations and sectors.
- Ensure funding for crisis accommodation or affordable housing meets high energy efficiency and building standards.
- Involve women and girls in philanthropic decision making in ways such as Board positions, and seek gender equity in your organisation at all levels.
- Ask organisations you already fund how climate change is affecting (or will affect) them and if they need support to adapt.