The impacts of climate change differ between males and females. To help combat these disproportionate consequences, a gender-based climate change framework focused on reproductive justice is essential in demonstrating how climate change exacerbates pre-existent inequities. This will ensure that human rights and social justice are at the center of legislation and discussion.
Art by Anusha Goswami
Climate change has fundamentally altered weather patterns, societal foundations, and the global economy. Our new normal has become extreme, violent weather events and natural disasters. The issue is not if climate change is real, but rather how communities around the world will respond to the insidious effects of global warming. While climate change affects both males and females, the way it is experienced differs drastically by gender.
Current research on the intersection of gender and climate change concludes that global warming will deeply affect the availability of natural resources, access to adequate health services, and individuals’ physical and psychological health. Males are disproportionately affected by illnesses associated with heat and infectious diseases. This is likely due to men’s greater exposure to outdoor settings, particularly for work. While men and women are both likely to experience worsened mental health after climate disasters, women are at a higher risk than men to experience depression, anxiety, and other stress-related conditions.
Meanwhile, extreme heat, natural disasters, pollution, and infectious diseases have all been linked with poor maternal health outcomes and delayed prenatal care. Females are more likely to lack access to economic resources, struggle with increased food insecurity, have poor menstrual health and hygiene, and experience gender-based violence (GBV) in the form of domestic violence and sexual assault. The United Nations Refugee Agency has stated that they believe this may be the result of lacking access to safe shelters, overcrowded facilities, increased civil disorder, and the absence of social services. Increases in GBV have additionally been associated with natural disasters, likely due to an increase in intense stress, as well as sex trafficking from population displacement. Women are unable to leave these abusive relationships because of emotional, physical, and mental abuse, forcing them to remain out of fear, isolation, denial, and trauma. Another reason is that abusers tend to dominate every aspect of their victims' lives, preventing them from obtaining a job or financial independence. By controlling access to money, women are unable to support themselves or their children. They may fear their children will be taken away from them or that their potentially vulnerable immigration status could be exposed.
But the consequences and impacts of climate change also vary among women, depending on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography, etc. Women with low incomes and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous females are much more likely to work in low-paying jobs, lack benefits, and often are denied opportunities for advancement. As a result, this increases their vulnerabilities to climate change, undermining their personal autonomy, dignity, and human rights.
Therefore, in an effort to combat CO2 emissions and glaring gender inequality, a gender-based climate change framework is essential in describing how climate change exacerbates pre-existent inequities. Since 1994, an advocacy movement throughout the U.S. has incorporated climate change into an overall framework focused on gender equity. This movement is referred to as reproductive justice, “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” It highlights the connection between reproductive rights and social justice, demonstrating how forms of oppression faced by women greatly affect bodily autonomy and parenting decisions. Forms of oppression include discrimination within medicine, being denied access to services based on socioeconomic and immigration status, or experiencing disparities in paychecks and economic security. A central tenet of reproductive justice is promoting gender mainstreaming, described by the UN Women as “a globally accepted strategy for promoting gender equality” that seeks to ensure that gender is at the center of research, legislation, planning, and implementation of programs.
Applying a reproductive justice framework to climate change allows researchers, policymakers, and politicians to ensure that human rights and social justice are the center of legislation. Coupling a reproductive justice framework with female empowerment can help decrease the persistent discrimination and inequity of women. This can be done by increasing access to education and opportunities, strengthening economic security, and enabling women to have positions of leadership. Ultimately, this will lower the disproportionate effects of climate change on women.