Vancouver Climate Strike

How Climate Change Impacts Women Disproportionately

by Peggy Chen

There are many worthwhile moments to highlight in this past year’s global calls for climate action.

Here in Canada, the House of Common declared a national climate emergency, put forward by Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna. The work of Indigenous teen water activist, Autumn Peltier from Wiikwemkoong First Nation in Ontario, and other young leaders worldwide, was in the media spotlight leading up to the 2019 Global Climate Strike. In Metro Vancouver, over 10,000 people took part in the climate strike, organized by Sustainabiliteens Vancouver, a group of teens who are part of the international climate movement. 

Many of these inspiring leaders taking charge on climate change are women and girls, fighting for their lives and futures because women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change all over the world. In fact, the United Nations estimates that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. In Canada and elsewhere, women’s traditional roles as primary caregivers and the main providers of food in their family makes them more vulnerable to environmental changes. 

In rural communities in Canada, particularly in Indigenous and Northern communities, the effect of climate change on food security is a pressing challenge. As providers, women usually work in agriculture or collect food and water. With climate change, these tasks become more difficult. Up to nearly half of households are considered food insecure in the North, and this burden often falls on women. 

Even in major cities like Vancouver and Toronto, women are at risk of climate change impacts. Globally, women are more likely to experience poverty and hold less socioeconomic power than men, making it difficult to recover from disasters that affect infrastructure, jobs and housing. 

Despite these harsh impacts, women are resilient and often have the knowledge and unique experiences to address climate changes and offer mitigation actions. Many women and girls are already leading the way with practical solutions to address climate change, but the reality is that energy and environmental sectors are still primarily dominated by men. Limited access to financial resources, training and technology and decision-making leadership positions are some of the factors that prevent women from playing a full role in tackling climate change.

As noted by politician Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, “Women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power. It is essential that we understand the relationship between the effects of climate change and the persistence of violence against women.”

It is clear that climate change affects women of all socioeconomic backgrounds, all over the world. At the YWCA, we recognize that climate change is just one of the many societal challenges that disproportionately affect women. Our advocacy work aims to address the root causes of poverty and social inequality, in hopes that women can achieve economic independence to fully take part in decision-making processes pertinent to their lives, including climate action. 

With powerful women and girls paving the way in the climate movement, we are hopeful that we can make sustainable action. As Swedish teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg said, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option." We hope you will join us and young leaders like Thunberg in taking action in defence of the climate and the future of women and their families. 

Photo by Carlos Santos (Vancouver Climate Strike, September 2019) - Flickr Creative Commons.