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Climate Change and Women: A Deeper Dive Into Disproportionate Impact

As we reflect on International Women's Day 2024 and the theme of "Investing in Women: Accelerating Progress", one area of progress that goes glaringly under-discussed is the impact that climate change disproportionately has on women. Investing in protecting the environment and supporting more women in leadership roles is inextricably intertwined with women’s well-being. It’s been said that women care more about sustainability naturally because they are inherently raised to be caring and nurturing. With this in mind, marketing and advertising agencies create their eco-products with women as their target consumers. This leaves men feeling like sustainability is a woman’s domain, as many of the tasks like recycling, buying household products, eco-friendly fabrics, etc. fall under under the umbrella of household care. 

But it takes everyone being involved to address the growing disparity– whether it’s household work and finances or refugee migration and agriculture, there is no category untouched when it comes to how climate change is reshaping our societies in a way that leaves women extremely vulnerable. 

Home Life and Increased Responsibilities

Around the globe, women are often the primary caregivers and managers of household resources. This role becomes increasingly more challenging as the environment changes. Consider this: in many regions, women are responsible for securing food, water, and fuel. When droughts or erratic rainfall occur, it's often the women who work harder to ensure the family's basic survival. This added pressure sometimes leads to girls leaving school to assist their mothers, hindering their education and future prospects.

Following closely behind this is the increase in risks to women's health, related to maternal and child health. For instance, extreme heat has been linked to an increase in stillbirths and the spread of vector-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue, and Zika virus, which are detrimental to maternal and neonatal outcomes. 

The Role of Women in Agriculture and the Workforce

In many African countries, changing climate patterns have led to men migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work, leaving women behind to manage land and households, often without legal rights or social authority. This migration trend significantly alters the roles of women and men, especially in rural areas.

Women's involvement in agriculture is crucial, yet it brings many threats. In rural economies, women and girls are doubly affected by discrimination and gender-based violence. The environmental crisis only aggravates these patterns.

Finances: Yes the Gender Pay Gap STILL exists

Let’s relate this section specifically to our Australian readership. Women in Oz face a notable gap in their superannuation balances compared to men (by 50%!). This gap is influenced by factors like the gender pay gap and the higher likelihood of women engaging in unpaid work or part-time employment, often due to caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, women tend to have breaks in their careers for childcare, affecting their lifetime earning potential and ability to accumulate superannuation.

This statistic alone puts women at greater risk of poverty in their retirement years especially single women, with nearly 40% of them currently experiencing this situation. Add in climate-related natural disasters and this can put further financial strain on women, whether through direct losses (like property damage) or indirect costs (like increased insurance premiums). 

A vitally important step that has only recently been addressed is receiving superannuation whilst on maternity leave, something the Australian government has actioned to come into effect in July 2025. This will significantly decrease the gendered gap in superannuation. 

Women's Leadership and Decision-Making: Key to Effective Climate Action

A study found that increased women's representation in national parliaments leads to the adoption of more stringent climate change policies and lower emissions. At the community level, women's participation in natural resource management leads to better resource governance and conservation outcomes.

In corporate settings, higher percentages of women on boards correlate positively with the disclosure of carbon emissions information, indicating a link between women's leadership and transparency in climate impact.

Investing in women isn’t just about equality; it’s strategic. Women make up 43% of the labour force in developing countries but receive only 7% of the investment return. If women smallholders received equal access to productive resources, their farm yields could rise by 20-30%, significantly reducing hunger. This could also reduce the pressure to deforest more land, thereby decreasing emissions.

Most importantly, if funding went into ensuring every girl and woman received a full education, there is strong evidence linking higher education to reduced childbearing, minimising the strain on our world’s natural resources. We see an increase in career aspirations and this results in having the money to adequately support children should women want to have them.

A Call for Inclusive, Gender-Sensitive Climate Action

As we observe International Women's Day 2024, it's crucial to recognise the interconnection between gender equality and effective climate action. The inclusion of women in climate policy-making and investment in education, health, and economic opportunities are just some of the dozens of ways we as a society can mitigate an ever-growing gap. It’s a necessity and essential to unlocking their potential as change agents for our future, achieving comprehensive and effective solutions to the climate crisis

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