The Gendered Impacts of the Climate Crisis: Building a Sustainable Tomorrow

The theme for International Women’s Day in 2022 “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” captures the need of the hour, following the dire pronouncements in the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It reminds us that climate justice needs to be prioritized and that gender equality needs to be at the heart of it. Climate impacts play out over familiar fault lines, exacerbating systemic gender inequalities. Women tend to depend more on, but have less access to, natural resources. In the face of disasters and climate change, decision-making power, ability to take actions, mobilizing resources, and utilizing social networks all contribute to the issue.

The issue of climate justice has been an ongoing conversation in Bangladesh. Although it has one of the lowest per capita emissions, it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. This year’s theme recalls our country’s familiarity with the gendered impacts of natural disasters. An overwhelming majority of those who died from the 02B cyclone in 1991 were women. This was partly due to the cyclone warnings not reaching many women who were in their homes. Since then, we have improved reaching households with disaster warnings, though gendered impacts persist.

Joygum Begum is a graduate of BRAC Special Targeting Ultra Poor program

Our analysis of the baseline survey for BRAC’s Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), conducted by BIGD in 2017 (BRAC RED, 2017), showed that 33% of the 33,554 women who were asked about climate change, among other issues, sought help from their spouse or other family members to respond. This was the only topic they turned to others for help, indicating the fact that women, particularly marginalized women, get left behind from conversations around climate change.

Our work also points to the path forward. Ongoing research with BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program (UPG) shows that women from ultra-poor households in the southwest are disproportionately impacted by climate change. They are putting an increasing amount of time and effort to access potable water as the salinity of soil and water bodies increases. Programs such as the UPG targets the socio-economic wellbeing of women, removing some of the barriers for them to take action and mobilize their resources, as well as raising awareness around various issues such as climate change. The program’s recent layering of its graduation model with climate interventions shows that our path towards climate justice lies in addressing the structural issues that contribute to social inequalities.

Let us not forget that the International Women’s Day had its origins in the labour movement, with women factory workers demanding fairer work conditions. Therefore, it is only in the spirit of justice that we can hope to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. For the most impacted, the compounding issues contributing to the marginalization need to be considered together with socioeconomic, gender, and environmental issues.

Dr Rohini Kamal is a Research Fellow at BIGD. She leads the research on Environment and Climate Change. 

Photo by Conor Ashleigh, licensed under CC BY 2.0.