While growing up as a young child in the Congo Basin forest, Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Africa, witnessed first-hand the impact of climate change on women, who, according to her, “were the feeding hand of their home.”
The situation is no different in Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, where 45 to 70% of the agricultural workforce is women.
“The burden of climate change, which impacts health, food security, and economic levels for everyone, is particularly harsh for women,” said Anastasia Volkova, Ukrainian agricultural innovator.
Still, despite being about half the global population, women, especially those from the global south, are rarely on the table when solutions for “They are rarely invited to participate in climate change policy-making,’ they also “lack the same access to resources as men,” Deugoue said.
In Nigeria, whenever there is coverage of the devastating impact of climate change, like flooding, women make up the highest population of displaced victims and
Climate change impact on women
The negative impacts of climate change disproportionately affect women and girls, said Sheila Moor, a climate activist and a UNEP advocate, “This is not due to inherent vulnerability but the result of gender inequalities,” she said.
Moor held that “during and after climate-related events, women and girls are more exposed to gender-based violence, and girls are less likely than boys to continue their education.”
She added, “When it comes to employment, women in developing countries are more likely to work in the informal sector, making their livelihoods more vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks.”
Women heavily rely on local natural resources for subsistence farming. Erratic rainfall, prolonged droughts, and extreme weather events disrupt crop yields, threatening food security and increasing women's already substantial workload.
Water scarcity is another pressing concern, as rising temperatures contribute to reduced water availability. Rural women often bear the burden of fetching water over long distances, impacting their health, time for income generation, and access to education, particularly affecting girls.
Health and nutrition also suffer due to climate change, with women facing direct health risks from heat stress, vector-borne diseases, and reduced access to clean water and sanitation. Food scarcity resulting from disrupted agriculture can lead to malnutrition, further endangering maternal and child health.
Migration and displacement are exacerbated by climate change, forcing communities to relocate due to desertification, sea-level rise, and extreme weather. During displacement, women face heightened risks of gender-based violence, property loss, and limited access to essential services. The stressors of climate change can also escalate existing tensions, leading to increased gender-based violence within households and communities.
What needs to happen
For Deugoue, policies aimed at tackling climate change must be inclusive and should consider “gender-specific vulnerabilities.”
She added that this can be done by “integrating gender considerations participation and inclusion into all stages of policy development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation,” and this can be done by creating “spaces for women to voice their concerns, perspectives, and knowledge to ensure that policies address their specific needs.”
She added that years of not being on the have created a mindset that makes many think women's leadership is not important, "I’ve been to a community where, despite the fact that women have the main knowledge on how to better preserve the forest, they weren't allowed to sit at the discussion table with the men leaders of the community,' for her, it is “ important to build a mindset change within these communities, to have women's leadership more and more recognised.”
Deugoue added that there is a need to invest in and support women-led initiatives and to “foster partnerships and collaboration among women and governments, civil society organizations, academia, and other stakeholders to promote gender-responsive climate action.”
A women-centric approach
A women-centred approach to climate action presents a multitude of benefits that extend beyond gender equality, offering a more comprehensive and impactful strategy for addressing the challenges of climate change, according to Deugoue.
By providing women with opportunities for climate-related training, access to resources, and leadership roles, they are empowered to become catalysts for positive change within their communities.
As women gain skills and decision-making influence, they are better equipped to drive sustainable development, alleviate poverty, and elevate livelihoods. This empowerment not only benefits women individually but also contributes to the equitable distribution of resources and a more inclusive societal fabric.
“When women have access to education, healthcare, economic resources, and decision-making power, they tend to invest more in their families' well-being and contribute to poverty reduction,” Deugoue said.
She added that women have a “spiritual connection” to nature and therefore commit to maintaining and protecting the environment, as they brunt of environmental impacts.
By bolstering access to education, healthcare, and income-generating opportunities for women, communities are better positioned to withstand climate-induced shocks.
Consequently, healthier families, improved educational outcomes, and poverty reduction follow suit, fortifying societies against environmental disasters.
Also, policies developed through a women-centred lens lead to inclusivity and effectiveness. Incorporating diverse perspectives ensures that the concerns and experiences unique to women are acknowledged and integrated into decision-making.
This inclusive process generates innovative solutions grounded in local realities while also acknowledging the pivotal roles women play in sustainable resource management and caregiving.
As a result, a harmonious relationship between communities and their environments can be cultivated, ushering in a more balanced and sustainable future.
Adopting a women-centred approach to climate action holds the promise of enhanced resilience, empowerment, reduced vulnerability, and more adept policy outcomes. By recognizing and harnessing the pivotal roles that women play, societies can unlock a sustainable response to the intricate challenges posed by climate change.