Sexist climate change? Women and girls hit hardest by extreme weather

  • By Sebastien Malo
  • 24/07/2018

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Women wrapped in shawls walk through a sandstorm in Timbuktu July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

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Climate projections about rising sea levels and soaring temperatures increasingly dominate global headlines, but one climate story that rarely gets told is the tale of how women and girls are hit hardest by extreme weather and shocks.

Yet there are myriad ways in which women and girls suffer more than men from the effects of climate change, experts said last week at a debate held by the UK-funded Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters program.

Why? In parts of the world where grave gender inequality is already stark, droughts, floods and other freak weather events mean women and girls are often among the last to receive help.

In Chad, researchers Virginie Le Masson and Colette Benoudji have encountered an unexpected manifestation of that dynamic.

While studying how living conditions affect the ability of people to resist climate change, they found that female victims of domestic abuse were particularly vulnerable to wild weather.

Victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation have less access to a long list of resources during times of climate crises: education, information and land ownership among others.

"To sum up: domestic violence impedes resilience building because it prevents those who survived violence to fulfill their basic needs and interests," said Le Masson, a research associate with the Overseas Development Institute think-tank in London.

Benoudji, the founder of Lead Tchad, a non-profit in Chad's capital N'Djamena, said that persuading community and religious leaders to break the vicious circle was one promising avenue in the drive to better prepare women and girls for extreme weather.

Christian leaders in the Central African country are starting to speak out against child marriage, she said.

Still, others are unwilling to disrupt the status quo.

"It's not always in their interest," said Benoudji.

A continent away, in India, Sabita Parida, an independent research and evaluation consultant working on food security, gender, and climate change, said women had been feeling the strains of climate extremes differently in recent years.

Amid a wave of farmers' suicides - as unseasonal rains and drought lead to crop failures - the widows left behind are the overlooked victims of climate change, according to Parida.

These women are often left to repay the debts of their dead husbands, which is a burden as their lack of land titles cut them off from government programs or compensation, she said.

Indian communities also struggled to give women the chance to get involved in discussions about adapting to climate change.

One initiative to open the dialogue involved setting up day care centers in drought-prone areas of India, with the goal of getting more women into work, and boosting their autonomy.

But overall, such gender-sensitive initiatives ended up making little difference, due to poor implementation, she said.

"When it comes to implementation or adaptation, we failed."

Sebastien Malo is a Thomson Reuters Foundation reporter.

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