Part 1 - Climate Change Is Sexist

Climate Change

How climate change disproportionately kills women and girls.

In Aceh during and in the aftermath of the 2004 Asia Tsunami 75 percent of those who died were women, resulting in a male-female ratio of 3:1 among the survivors. Because so many mothers died their daughters became the victims of early marriage, withdrawal from school, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.

Over 10,000 women die every year from climate disasters such as tropical storms and droughts, compared to about 4,500 men, and of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change 20 million of those are women.

There are multiple reasons for this inequity ranging from cultural norms that prohibit women and girls from learning to swim to traditional clothing women and girls are required to wear that impedes their ability to run. In Sri Lanka, because of social prejudice, climbing trees and swimming are activities allowed only to boys, skills they used to survive when the waves of the tsunami hit land.

Additionally alarming is the fact that boys are more likely to receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts because the communities in which they live value the lives of men and boys more than the lives of women and girls. These are often the same cultures and regions with the highest rates of female infanticide, domestic abuse, rape, child marriage, maternal and infant mortality, unequal distribution of daily survival chores, female illiteracy and female genital cutting.

Climate Change

Women and girls whose clothing had been ripped from them in the flooding are less likely, because of cultural modesty mores, to seek help and shelter and therefore do not receive the same amount of food and medical treatment as men and boys.

In many areas due to the prevailing patriarchy women and girls are unable to visit relief centers or relocate without the permission of a male relative.  Even if physically and culturally able to enter emergency shelters many women still avoid using them as they expose them to sexual violence. These spaces, although intended to offer safety, are essentially no go zones as they pose an even higher threat than the devastation outside.

Another reason women and girls can’t and don’t seek shelter is because local and even international aid agencies don’t provide private toilets for women and even if women feel safe enough to enter the overwhelmingly male facilities their cultures forbid them from “mingling” with members of the opposite sex.

A study of natural disasters occurring between 1981 and 2002 found that, in countries and cultures where women lack the social and economic power enjoyed by men, they are far more likely to die in the aftermath of climate calamities. The bigger the disaster, the bigger the impact on the gender gap for life expectancy even after the immediate needs of victims have been met. This is due to cultural rather than biological factors. An example of this is that because women are the primary caregivers to children and the elderly they are more often than not the last to leave  which puts them at a greater risk of being crushed and killed in collapsing buildings.

During the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone 90 percent of the 150,000 people killed were women largely because women couldn't swim, had their mobility restricted because of their clothing, and left their homes too late waiting for a male relative to accompany them. In contrast, men face no such cultural restrictions in terms of clothing, have the ability to swim, and are allowed to meet in public spaces and own cell phones, thus enabling them to warn each other of the coming danger--and yet in many cases don’t pass that information onto the women in their families. Technology in the form of mobile phones is expensive and is not seen as a necessary expense for women and girls who rarely leave the home, making calling for help impossible.  

Climate Change

Patriarchies and poverty are at the root of all of this. In countries and cultures where women and girls experience greater poverty and fewer social rights they are 14 times more likely than men to be killed in natural disasters.

When social order breaks down as it often does during and after natural disasters, women and children who survive the initial event are frequently doubly victimized by their vulnerability to rape, abuse, trafficking and child marriage.

For all of these reasons (and a shit load of others) it is more important than ever that we understand and recognize combatting climate change is feminist activism. Global warming is a humanitarian and moral issue that requires much of all of us and takes many forms.

So plant a tree, turn down the heat and switch off the light. Recycle, choose energy efficient  modes of transportation, use your voice and your vote.

It just might save a life…


Article by Anna Quick-Palmer