Gendered Impacts of Climate Change on Health

Published: 2023/07/06 Number of words: 1504


Climate change and its detrimental impacts has been felt across the world, both in the short term (natural climate hazards such as floods and cyclones) as well as in the long term. The world has witnessed changing weather patterns and degradation of the natural environment. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, loss of biodiversity has been primarily due to climate change (UN Women Watch). Food security, accessibility, environment, health, sanitation, human rights, energy, etc., are all threatened by the impact of climate change. Global warming and climate change have greatly contributed to the rise in poverty, hunger, malnutrition, health and rise in infectious diseases. This essay will focus on the impact of climate change on human health, particularly women who are disproportionately affected by it due to their biological, social, and economic vulnerabilities.

The Impact of Climate Change on Health

The connection between climate change and diseases is not straightforward. But it is one of the key determinants and drivers of the transmissibility of diseases (Barros et al., 2014). The greatest impact of climate change, in terms of health, has been the rise in morbidity and mortality rates of humans in recent times (Monaghan et al., 2018). This is because, climate determines the geographical distribution of infectious diseases while weather can influence the prevalence and severity of epidemics (Beard et al., 2016). Serious illnesses and infectious diseases have increased several folds due to environmental hazards, in the last several decades, due to climate change. Scientists have reported that there will be an increase in the frequency and prevalence of infectious diseases and emerging diseases in the world due to climate change. According to Flahault et al. (2016), there is evidence that there is a higher risk of emergence of Rift Valley Fever and Malaria, in Africa. This is thought to be linked to the warm El Nino Southern Oscillations which is believed to increase the prevalence of emerging diseases. For instance, the same phenomenon is also linked to the increase in the risk of dengue fever in Brazil and Southeast Asia (Mutheneni et al., 2017). Similarly, in Bangladesh, the prevalence of cholera is increasing due to the temperature rises in the Gulf of Bengal (Caminade et al., 2014). On the other hand, research has identified the link between mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Zika etc and droughts (Flahault et al., 2012; Petersen et al., 2016). The latter is due to the methods adopted by people, during droughts, to store large amounts of water, in open areas which becomes the breeding platforms for mosquitoes (Flahault et al., 2016).

Gendered Impact of climate change on women’s health

The impact of climate change is disproportionate on men and women. Women are more vulnerable to its effects as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor (Sorensen et a., 2018), depend more on natural resources for their livelihood, and face social, economic, and political barriers in different parts of the world. For instance, women in least developing or developed countries are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods. From sourcing and securing food, water, using energy for cooking and livelihood, the burden is often on women in rural areas and therefore face tremendous challenges. Women farmers currently account for 45-80 percent of all food production in most developing countries (UN Women Watch). Therefore, women face loss of income when climate change interferes with agricultural harvests. Unequal access to resources due to man-made and natural disasters such as floods or deforestation, result in limited mobility for women in rural areas who are therefore disproportionately affected by climate change. It affects women’s welfare, livelihood, security, resilience to climate change, social welfare and increasingly their health (UN Women Watch).

Women’s physiological and biological responses to climate change (rising temperatures, environmental hazards, etc.) are not only different from men but also increase their vulnerability to diseases. This is exacerbated by cultural vulnerabilities which encompasses access to healthcare facilities, suitable clothing, and lack of awareness on women’s vulnerabilities to climatic changes at local, regional, or national level policy makers (Sorensen et al., 2018). Women’s health has been deeply affected due to challenges such as water scarcity, contamination, distribution, and evolution of infectious diseases due to changes in climate. This has given rise to the incidence of diseases like cholera, malaria, dengue, etc. (UN Women Watch). According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change, women face increased health risks and greater burden due to climate change (UNFCC, 2017; Sorensen et al., 2018). In the absence of inadequate infrastructure to access clean water, the health challenges of women increase several folds particularly during pregnancy and menstruation (Birch et al., 2012). An example of this would be the rise in prevalence of Dengue in India due to unplanned urbanisation, poor sanitary facilities, water scarcity and waste management systems (Gupta and Reddy, 2013). Similarly, water scarcity which increases the risk of women drinking contaminated water can cause water borne diseases among women care givers who tend to provide water for the entire family (Birch et al., 2012). It has been found that in countries like India, 30% of women’s daily expenditure of energy goes towards the harvesting of water (WHO, 2014). Pregnancy also certainly increases the risk and vulnerability of women to contract illnesses and diseases. Prolonged exposure to hot conditions is linked to birth defects, still birth and other conditions (Van Zutphen et al., 2012). Pregnant women are three times more vulnerable to contract malaria compared to non-pregnant women (Rijken et al., 2012).


Climate change has widened the gender-based health disparities that exist in several countries across the globe. This calls for gender perspective integrated into the existing climate policy development strategies to decrease or limit the negative health outcomes. Therefore, policy makers need to go beyond traditional approaches to health and instead identify and adopt proactive, gender sensitive and gender-based solutions to promote public health and women health. Gender must be integrated in any adaptation or mitigation strategy designed to combat climate change.


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