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Climate change affects women more – what can we do about it?

06 July 2022

As part of our Women Like Us series, Dr Parikh and Dr Garfias Royo explain why climate change has a greater impact on women.

Climate change affects women more – what can we do about it?
In Mexico, water scarcity has forced women to walk further to collect it. Image credit: Joraca/Shutterstock

Women are more vulnerable to climate change.

In part, because they're also more vulnerable to poor infrastructure:

Because of stereotypical gender roles, women spend more time taking care of the home and family members. This is especially true during health emergencies.

In some instances, they have to quit their paid jobs to fulfil these duties.

Climate change creates more work

Women and girls are often the ones who spend time collecting water, disposing wastewater and finding cooking fuels for the household.

These are time-consuming and labour-intensive activities. They can limit their access to education and affect their health and well-being.

Climate change makes these challenges worse for women.

It results in more work, mental and emotional stress, occupational hazards and higher mortality than men.

Women also tend to have limited access to and control of goods and services.

They're less likely to have access to land, decision-making positions, wealth and training. These could all help to increase their ability to adapt to climate change.

Their livelihood is at risk

During extreme weather conditions, women face greater difficulties on a daily basis because of a lack of infrastructure.

For example, women may be more affected by heatwaves. Through outdoor activities like collecting cooking fuel or indoor activities like cooking, they experience more heat exposure.

During flood events, there's an added risk of catching water borne diseases due to insanitary conditions.

  • In South Africa, women reported walking up to 15km in extreme hot and cold weather to collect water.
  • In Ethiopia, a survey found that 18% of households kept a girl home from school to help collect water.
  • In Mexico, water scarcity has forced women to walk further to collect it. This reduces their ability to earn more income.

Everyone's in danger

Women in low-income households experience these challenges more than high income groups.

Still, it's important to address climate change and infrastructure delivery for everyone.

Addressing gender-specific effects of climate change will benefit society as a whole.

There's a clear need to invest in infrastructure for human development and climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that the additional investment needed to adapt to new infrastructure varies from $7.6 to $130 billion.

But this doesn't fully represent the huge infrastructure gaps that exist. Nor does it recognise the need to almost 'start from scratch' with infrastructure delivery in some nations.

There's potential to use climate change adaptation to raise finance and provide decent infrastructure that works for everybody.

This also provides an opportunity to build infrastructure that's gender-inclusive from the beginning.

Gender-inclusive infrastructure and gender equality

Gender-inclusive infrastructure solutions would address several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example:

  • SDG 5 on gender equality,
  • SDG 10 on reduced inequalities,
  • SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities, and
  • SDG 13 on climate action.

But these solutions are only workable if women’s participation in leadership positions increases.

This would allow diverse views on climate change action and infrastructure investments.

Views that we need.

Learn more

UCL's Engineering for International Development Centre researches engineering solutions for human development and wellbeing.

These solutions address SDGs using locally acceptable water-sanitation-energy approaches.

Learn more about the centre

  • Prof Priti Parikh, director and professor of infrastructure engineering and international development at Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, UCL
  • Dr Margarita Garfias Royo, research fellow at Engineering for International Development Centre, The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, UCL