The Impact of the Climate Emergency on Women

Women are primary caregivers. Our work makes it possible for humans to survive and flourish. We build networks of supportive relationships. We build communities. 

The climate emergency and other environmental destruction directly and disproportionately impact us and the essential work that we do. They threaten sources of food and water. They throw our supportive networks into chaos. 

As women we are lower in socioeconomic status and have less power than men. Sexism, and the rigid roles it imposes, limit women’s access to the resources and experiences that can better prepare them to handle disasters and adapt to climate change. Women who face multiple oppressions—Indigenous women, women in the Global South, women of color, poor women, women with disabilities, young women—are hit the hardest. 

Climate change creates societal instability. Rape and other forms of sexual violence increase. In North America, the construction of new fossil fuel pipelines (for example, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines) creates large settlements in geographically isolated areas that are primarily populated by men. This leads to human trafficking and sexual violence. Many of those targeted are Native women who live in the territories through which the pipelines are built. 

Many women in the Global South engage in subsistence farming. They produce between 40% and 80% of the food, as well as collect fuel and water. (Women and girls are responsible for collecting water in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries.) With increasing droughts, floods, and other erratic weather events, the burden on women increases. It is more difficult for them to meet their families’ needs for food, water, and energy. It is also harder to generate income or obtain an education. 

According to the United Nations, eighty percent of the people displaced by climate change are women. Yet women are less than thirty percent of those who decide policy in national and global climate negotiating bodies; sexism limits women’s leadership. Women are brilliant. We understand the importance of human relationships. We know how to create rather than destroy. We should be central to solving the climate crisis. 

In addition to damaging the lives of both women and men, sexism and male domination stand in the way of solving the climate emergency. But the practices of Sustaining All Life and United to End Racism—listening to each other without interruption and supporting each other’s natural healing processes (laughing, crying, talking, and shaking)—allow both women and men to heal from the damage done by sexism and male domination. This changes the power dynamic, making it possible for women’s voices to be central in decision-making, and for women and men to be strong allies in ending climate change.

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