Climate change has outsize impact on girls and women - UNFPA

The effects of the climate crisis have a disproportionate impact on women and girls – and crisis response does not include necessary gender-based work.

Syrian refugees walk as they carry containers at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 12, 2021 (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)
Syrian refugees walk as they carry containers at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 12, 2021
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)

The effects of the climate crisis are not gender-neutral, and women and girls are more strongly impacted, said the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Tuesday. 

"Without equal rights and the ability to exercise decision-making over their own bodies, women and girls are simply not on an equal footing when it comes to navigating the devastating consequences of the climate crisis," said Dr. Natalia Kanem in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Independent.

Climate change multiplies existing vulnerabilities, said UNFPA director Matt Jackson in a blog post Tuesday. With women and girls making up the majority of the global poor, they are hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, which include extreme weather patterns that can limit access to food, water and shelter, he said.

"Climate-driven poverty, food insecurity and air pollution are all negatively affecting maternal and newborn health outcomes, with an increased risk of premature deliveries, stillbirths and low birth weight," Jackson said.

"The aftermath of disasters also brings increased protection risks for women and girls," he said, giving examples of tropical storms in Latin America leaving girls vulnerable to sexual abuse and cyclones in the Asia-Pacific region precipitating spikes in gender-based violence. 

 Demonstrators hold signs as they participate in a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in London, Britain, November 6, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS) Demonstrators hold signs as they participate in a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in London, Britain, November 6, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

"Families suffering financial hardship and unable to feed their children are more likely to pull their daughters out of school and offer them into marriage," he said.

Attempts to improve resilience to climate change have not included a necessary "gender lens" to address this uneven impact on girls and women, Jackson said.

The UNFPA (formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities) is the sexual and reproductive health agency of the UN and its mission is to create a world where "every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled."