Anybody can be a victim of climate change, but it has become increasingly apparent that climate change impacts various population groups differently. Poor girls and women are among those most affected. Gender inequality has acted as a substantial barrier to women and girls’ access and ownership of resources like water, land and other productive assets, which are critical to their sustainable livelihoods. Compounded by their often limited decision-making power and mobility, girls and women are more at risk of losing lives in natural disasters, as was evident in the case of the Indian Ocean Earthquake and tsunami that happened in December 2004 where women accounted for 70 percent of the fatalities.
As women and girls suffer from poverty disproportionably, they will also suffer most when erratic weather brings natural calamities like floods or drought to crowded urban areas or marginal lands where the pain of poverty is most felt. Whereas existing evidence accentuates the vulnerability of women and girls to climate change, there is as well a plethora of evidence which emphasizes that women play a notable role in supporting communities and households to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In fact, girls and women have lead and continued to lead a huge chunk of the world’s most innovative responses to climate change.
Most importantly, it should be noted that the reason why women are most hit by the impacts of climate change is often based on social constructs- women face greater and specific vulnerabilities because of their social status and roles traditionally attached to them by society. For instance, in many developing and middle-income nations, women, and girls are predominantly tasked with the responsibility for food production, energy supply for cooking and household water supply. As the impacts of climate change worsen, these tasks become more and more time-consuming and cumbersome. Thus, climate change tends to impose a more significant burden on girls and women. Additionally, women all over the globe experience greater barriers and difficulties as compared to men regarding spatial mobility, basic access to healthcare, resources like land and capital, education, technologies and information as well as to decision-making in different levels- this often blocks the way for women empowerment and their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
Since climate change affects men and women differently, it is essential to embrace a perspective of gender equality when executing policy development discussions, strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation and decision-making at all levels. At the same time, women should not be depicted as victims, rather, they are powerful change agents, and their leadership is crucial. In formulating climate responses, including those pertaining to capacity-building and adaptation, women should not act as passive recipients. Instead, they should play active roles in determining solutions. Women’s contributions, needs, and concerns should be considered from the inception stage. The complementarity of women’s and men’s skills, capabilities and knowledge are particularly critical in designing and implementing practical and sustainable initiatives for adaptation and mitigation of effects of climate change.