Climate change is one of the most discussed problems of our time and for a good reason. Natural disasters including floods, droughts, melting sea ice, landslides, and hurricanes, as well as loss of biodiversity threaten life on the planet and humans are not excluded from the dire consequences. However, the impacts you face directly as a person highly depend on your gender, social status, ethnicity and various other intersecting factors . You might have heard the phrase: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” demanded at climate marches, online on social media or perhaps in news segments. Climate justice is a critical concept when it comes to climate mitigation and adaptation because it takes into account the different realities of peoples based on intersectionality.
Considerable research has focused on the gender binary and the consequences of various environmental issues and climate change. The research shows that women are often more vulnerable than men when it comes to climate and environmental issues. This does not mean that women are inherently less able to adapt to the impacts of environmental issues rather – and more importantly – this is because of the social structures and traditional gender roles in place in most societies.
Women in the Global South for example face more dire consequences than their men counterparts when it comes to environmental disasters such as floods and droughts. One research for instance focused on extreme weather patterns, especially heat waves and droughts, in Bangladesh and its correlation with early marriages. The study found that women are disproportionately more likely to be forced into marriages following environmental shocks. This is because marrying a daughter is a way for a household to cope with economic insecurity which is caused by the environmental shock. Furthermore, forced marriages and child marriages (a union that happens before the age of 18) are linked to lower economic opportunities and educational attainment for women and girls. Child marriages also expose girls to more rapid childbirths which is highly concerning since adolescent pregnancies cause a higher risk of complications for the mother and infant.
Another research focused on floods in the Global South and found that women were more likely to lose their lives than men. This is for example because women are less likely to have been taught how to swim. It is also more likely that they are staying at home taking care of the children while the men work outside the home. This means that men are more likely to be in a setting where people will be notified beforehand about an environmental disaster. It also means that women do not only have to take care of themselves but also the children when the disaster hits. Moreover, such disasters leave numerous children without a mother making them more vulnerable, causes higher infant death rates and increases the chances of children being forced into sex trafficking.
Climate change also disproportionately affects individuals within the LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalised sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close community. These individuals are already experiencing various social injustices and environmental issues add on to those. Research in the United States for example demonstrated that transgender people are at more risk of being denied aid following extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
In the Arctic, loss of biodiversity has been documented and evidence shows that indigenous communities are facing food security issues. Furthermore, indigenous culture and ways of life are being threatened because various indigenous communities highly rely on hunting. Hunters in these communities are mostly men and because of the significant lifestyle changes that biodiversity loss and sea ice melt escalate, unemployment rates and suicide risks among indigenous men have increased.
As we can see from these examples, it is undeniably very important to view climate and environmental issues through an intersectional lens. It is very fitting that the theme for the 2022 International Women’s Day held annually on the 8th of March is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” as gender equality cannot be reached without climate action. On a positive note, women and members of various minorities often take on leadership roles when it comes to climate adaptation and mitigation. They are at the forefront of activist movements all over the world, fighting for a just planet for all of us and for the future generations yet to enjoy it. However, the fight should not only be theirs. The consequences of climate change will eventually affect us all and taking action is crucial if we want to live in a just world.