How climate change disproportionately affects women
No matter how much the president of the United States may want to deny it, climate change is real. Not only does scientific evidence clearly support its existence, but so do our lived experiences: in the last year alone, our nation was forced to confront the effects of climate change in the form of multiple hurricanes, intense storms, and historic wildfires.
Thankfully, the U.S. has been able to address these disasters by offering aid. For example, the Red Cross raised $429 million alone for Hurricane Harvey relief. But what about nations outside of the United States? What about the developing nations that just don’t have the financial resources to address the damage caused by climate change? What’s more, certain people in these under-resourced nations are affected more than others — specifically, women.
Women comprise 45 to 80 percent of farmers in the developing world and also make up the majority of water gatherers globally. When the temperature and weather change, crop yields drop significantly. As local water sources drain out, women are forced to spend more time walking to water sources that are further away. For instance, in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, women are responsible for gathering medicinal plants, water, and food. Because these tasks have become much harder and more time consuming for them due to climate change, fewer girls are attending school to instead dedicate their time to tasks such as these. Furthermore, the women and girls who make contact with climate change–induced low-quality water are more likely to contract waterborne diseases.
These specific effects of climate change are compounded by the sexism that exists in cultures more generally. Take, for example, the cultural expectation that women put their family’s needs before their own. In many developing nations, this means women and girls pare down their diets when food is scarce, sacrificing their own health so that their husbands and children can eat. In some countries, women aren’t allowed to learn how to swim, and therefore are more likely to drown in the event of a flood. Additionally, women don’t have much financial security in developing nations; on a global average, women make 60 percent of what men make, which means women already spend more time working than men. This financial insecurity makes women more susceptible to dying from starvation and lack of accessibility to resources after significant natural disasters.
There are also consequences for women that extend beyond the direct effects of climate change. As farm-based economies are hit with floods and droughts, women and girls are more likely to be pushed into sex work, or trafficked, to garner income for their families. In Nepal, rates of child sex slavery increase up to 30 percent, on average, in the aftermath of climate change calamities.
So far, the American government has felt no obligation to assist with aid for these nations in the aftermath of climate-related catastrophes. But, in reality, forcing these nations to take on this burden is effectively forcing them to clean up a mess created by countries like the United States. The U.S. is the second-greatest contributor to carbon pollution after China. Meanwhile developing nations contribute the least to climate change. Essentially, this means that nations like the U.S. and China are engaging in environmental terrorism: We’re sabotaging developing nations by failing to take responsibility for the human-induced climate change for which we’re disproportionately at fault, and destroying these nations’ economies as a result.
While our political rhetoric has focused so much on securing the U.S.’s borders to keep danger from infiltrating our land, we must also consider how we are spreading danger to others. Other nations can’t “build a wall” to protect themselves from the dangers of climate change that we have disproportionately caused. Our country has become so blinded by our America-centric thinking that we choose to debate whether climate change is even real while the educations of children and women are stolen, their stomachs starved, and their bodies sold, as a result of it.
This climate is changing. It’s time we do too.
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