GENDER and climate change are integrally linked. Climate change disadvantages women disproportionately more than men due to their traditional family roles as carers, their lower incomes, and reduced access to credit, education, technology and resources.

As doctors who work in the frontline supporting people’s health, we have already seen how COVID-19 has resulted in women’s gendered roles becoming more entrenched, preventing women from pursuing work, education and other opportunities. We have equally seen the devastation caused by the bushfires only kilometres from where we live and work, and have experienced shortages of supplies and medicines rendering us unable to assist our sick patients, and deficiencies in our health care systems in resilience and adaptation, to the detriment of the health of our communities.

During the bushfires of the 2019–2020 summer, health care systems in Eastern Australia saw increased patient presentations and deaths related to the effects of bushfire smoke – these presentations are all climate-related events. We have seen communities displaced by heat, fire, flood and other natural disasters, both locally and globally, with restricted access to both basic provisions for daily living, and medical care. These are all events that we would not be experiencing to this degree without our changing climate.

During such times, the effects of existing systemic gender inequity are highlighted, as social disparities in health, health access and health equality broaden. Violence against women increases as access to adequate reproductive health services decreases, resulting in more unplanned pregnancies. Exposure to inhaled and ingested environmental toxins affect pregnancies resulting in higher rates of obstetric complications, birth defects, weaker babies, malnutrition, higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, and ongoing intergenerational effects. Climate change impacts on women and children put further stress on existing health infrastructure. Climate change disproportionately affects the world’s most socioeconomically vulnerable people – over 70% of whom are women. Women derive more of their livelihoods from the natural environment – two-thirds of the female labour force in developing countries are engaged in agricultural work and are as a result more impacted by the changes in natural resources caused by climate change.

It is a cruel truth that not only are women most affected by changes in climate, they are substantially less likely to have a seat at the table and be involved in decisions on land use, natural resource management or climate policy.

These climate change effects are amplified in Indigenous women, culturally and linguistically diverse women, women with disabilities, older women, and women with children, thereby also becoming a human rights and justice issue. The Gender Action Plan agreement at the  2019 United Nations Climate Change  Conference (COP25) states that the time for gender responsive climate action is now and taking the gendered dimension of climate change into account in developing policy is essential.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes in detail how gendered inequities are exaggerated by climate-related hazards, as they result in higher workloads for women, occupational hazards indoors and outdoors, psychological and emotional stress, and lead to higher mortality compared with men. This message must get through here in Australia in the lead-up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change  Conference (COP26), as Australia is more prone to the impact of catastrophic climate change than just about anywhere else due to its size, deforestation, cattle farming, arid climate, propensity to droughts and reliance on fossil fuels. Leaders who minimise or deny this and argue in favour of maintaining a fossil fuel driven, post-COVID-19 economic recovery, threaten the nation’s wellbeing and the survival of the planet.

Every model in the latest IPCC report (Climate change 2021: the physical science basis) warns us that anthropogenic climate change due to human-related greenhouse gas emissions is accelerating global warming, and if urgent action is not taken now, the earth’s temperature will increase beyond the tipping point of 1.5 Celsius by 2040, making extreme weather, with its devastating consequences, more common than the reports we see on the nightly news. Glaciers will retreat further, corals and other marine species will continue to perish in warming seas, island nations will become submerged and large populations will be caught in deadly heat waves, deluges, melting ice caps, rising sea water levels, unexpected floods and intensifying heat and deadly wildfires. The severity and frequency of natural disasters will be catastrophic and the effects will be even worse on women and children. The Lowy Institute advises that creation of environmental refugees is now an inevitable reality which needs to be factored into any economic policy and requires additional infrastructure.

We can’t afford not to act

Doctors For the Environment Australia and the Australian Federation of Medical Women are united in the quest to address the gendered impacts of climate change as we work to protect the planet that sustains us. We acknowledge that climate change solutions create economic opportunities which also provide opportunities to fix systemic gendered inequities as part of the process. We applaud the efforts of scientists and industry who have created solutions; these just need to be widely deployed.

These solutions include Beyond Zero Emissions, and the Climate Council’s Clean Jobs Plan which provides a whole-of-economy solution and identifies 12 major policy opportunities to immediately kick-start economic growth and can be deployed rapidly. The World Economic Forum points to contributions women make to creating solutions and states that “we can solve climate change if we involve women”. The time to implement these strategies is now, as we aim to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce pervasive gender inequity together. There is a documented relationship between improving gender equity and increased adaptation and climate resilience, and building strength in one directly impacts the other. Investing in the future of women will have substantial benefits for our planet and future generations.

We recognise the agency of women, and the roles that they play locally, nationally and globally as leaders, educators, experts and decision makers who play significant roles in shaping the future of our planet. Women across the globe have shown themselves to be innovators and instigators of meaningful and relevant climate action and policy.

Empowering women through education, access to technology, and leadership roles has been shown to lead to tangible outcomes in the form of more resilient communities that are better able to adapt and withstand the impacts of climate change. The role of many women as stewards of the natural environment, and the knowledge that comes with this, is essential to guide informed, relevant, collaborative and realistic climate policy.

This November, COP26 will occur. This is a crucial and pivotal opportunity to elevate the interplay between gender and climate – to emphasise the impacts on women and the action required, but also to promote women as world leaders and change-makers in climate policy and action. It is imperative that women are at the table – for the future of our planet.

Dr Magdalena Simonis is the President of Australian Federation of Medical Women.

Dr Kimberly Humphrey is the Deputy Chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

 

 

The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.


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12 thoughts on “Climate change impacts women more than men

  1. Paul Jenkinson says:

    If anyone is still reading this silly article,I have the solution for all of the concerns re gender issues to do with climate change!
    ( Isn’t there hundreds of genders by the way-which ones are we concerned with?)
    Everybody in the Southern Hemisphere should move a few degrees of Latitude Southwards and everybody in the Northern Hemisphere a few degrees Northwards.
    There,done! Problem solved. No more Research grants anymore for people doing nothing productive.China’s renewable production industry collapsed overnight.
    Dan Andrews might have to mandate that people don’t move from his State to Queensland as an emergency measure!!.It’s not healthy he could argue.(He’s good at that line)
    However I believe he should go against his normal urges and take a leaf out of King Canute’s book.
    He could take his people to the sea shore and tell them the reality. He,or anyone else,can do nothing about the balmy climate we have in this present interglacial Holocene period.

  2. Ulf Steinvorth says:

    There will always be Taliban, and Extremists in the world, yet science, scientists and women have fought hard to be able to speak uncomfortable truths, even to old bearded men who don’t want to hear them.

  3. Paul Jenkinson says:

    The editor is very careful to pick out comments that are not too damning of this article I notice.
    When I repeated quotes directly attributed to UN strategists and chiefs which demonstrate the real intention of the climate catastrophic hoax viz the destruction of industrialized countries i.ethe West,he/she decides those quotes aren’t kosher.
    The authors of this article are young and,God willing,they will be alive when the world we now know is not so damaged by this masochism that individual freedoms are still redeemable.

  4. Paul Jenkinson says:

    Thank heavens the Taliban have come to the rescue and are going to do their best for climate change.
    However, you might want to have a chat with President Biden about women’s rights in Afghanistan though. He sort of left them to it really.It seems the ever expanding Islamic world is not on board as it were.
    Coincidentally,that medieval religion is acting the same as it was in the Medieval Warm Period of about 1100 to 1400 AD when it was almost certainly warmer than now.(No thermometers then)
    By the way,since satellites have been flying around,the world has greened approximately 15%.That’s a lot of trees and agricultural land feasting on slightly warming temperature and a rising level of CO2,the food of life,plants and animals like us.
    Crop yields are booming all around the world ,except some areas(like always) where there are droughts presently.
    Women’s rights certainly need the efforts of all of us in free societies,as long as they last.
    We,hence,certainly should not waste any of our efforts on an inevitable failure for man or woman to do anything about the world’s climate and reducing millions of people,men and women, to a life of poverty and unnecessary hardship.
    If we could only do something about that very hot star not that far away from us that has these periodical cycles that have effected the planet earth since it came to exist 4 billion years ago.

  5. concerned doctor says:

    Is the moderator here a Green/Socialist? None of my rational and considered anti-Global Warming comments get through.

    Welcome to Stalinist censorship…

    Is this an AMA website or Pravda???

    No wonder so many sensible doctors have left the AMA…

  6. Magdalena Simonis says:

    Thank you Ros and Vicki for your comments and care for the environment.
    Jon Van Der Kallen, a tireless climate change champion yourself, thank you for your willingness to acknowledge these gendered disparities surrounding the climate change issues raised.
    Kris, I’m always open for a chat and looking forward to planning how we can to reach the CALD communities that live here, with these messages. The migrants living here from all parts of Africa especially, know all too well how ominous these issues are.

  7. Anonymous says:

    And you wonder why climate catastrophism is losing traction?

    Now it’s a gender issue!

    (By next week it will be a gender identity issue)

  8. Dr Ros Bandt international sound artist and rRchard Gill distinguished fellow. says:

    Stunning Magda, You above all have a voice which has earned its place fully at the table. Its so important we keep the profile and issues to the fore, even when and especilly when we feel the male hegemony and brick wall. Caring sharing equality is what this planet needs to embrace,

  9. A/Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM says:

    Excellent article Dr Simonis and Dr Humphrey! Thank you!
    Climate change is happening and women, including elderly and children, are most negatively impacted as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that describes how “gendered inequities are exaggerated by climate-related hazards, as they result in higher workloads for women, occupational hazards indoors and outdoors, psychological and emotional stress, and lead to higher mortality compared with men.”
    As the Lowy Institute advises that climate change will create “environmental refugees” – women, and elderly/children, are usually most impacted in these situations too!
    Well done and thank you for summarising and highlighting the harmful effects of climate change on human health and the effects of social displacement- it impacts everyone but women, children and the elderly are likely the most vulnerable.

  10. Kris Pavlidis says:

    Fabulous inspiring work!
    Thanks for your leadership & sharing.
    let’s chat Magda 🌸

  11. John Van Der Kallen says:

    Excellent article – well done. It seems that many of the people making the decisions about GHG emission reductions and those resisting the push for a zero emissions target BEFORE 2050, are men, especially in Australia. These men seem to be part of the same government which voted against 49 of the 55 recommendations for the Respect@work report in the lead up to the National Women’s Security Summit 2021. Seems that there is a theme here! The delay in action on climate change disadvantages women and is another form of discrimination and disrespect against women.

  12. Liz Rickman says:

    Excellent statement thank you Magda and Kimberly.

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