Photo Credit: Heavenly Bhutan

Climate change is not gender neutral

Notable research done globally have found that climate change has wide ranging impacts on the livelihoods of the people, especially women. Therefore, the disparity in the way it impacts men and women reveals that climate change is not gender neutral.

According to the findings on climate change and gender report by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), it revealed the visible gender differences, in terms of vulnerability, participation in decision-making and action, and diverse levels of benefit sharing.

Health, sexual exploitation and power dynamics come into play when it comes to vulnerability, which is seen as an indirect impact of climate change.

Sharing her experience on the vulnerability front, Uma, said, “In college, due to erratic weather conditions, we have water problems in the summer. So, we have to go outside to get water, and compared to men, we women are weaker, so there is a power dynamic, in terms of securing resources.”

According the report by NCWC, it stated that half of the surveyed population agreed that climate change increases women’s workload, and hence, impacts women more.

“Also, in my village (Mahokhola), women work in the field and in the house, so they are impacted more, in terms of skin diseases and body aches. Comparatively, men don’t get impacted by change in weather conditions and climate, whereas women are more affected,” she added.

It is a common global finding that women have more domestic tasks and duties, and diverse climate change impact hinder and make it difficult for women to carry out their works. 

The rising temperature due to climate change can affect the health of women, especially maternal health and neonatal health. A Wilson Centre discussion on climate change on maternal and newborn health concluded that exposure to climate-related stressors lead to adverse health outcomes including miscarriage, low-birth weight, malnutrition, and respiratory diseases. It also showed that increases in infectious diseases and food insecurity have long-term effects, including increased rates of child marriage.

Sonam Pema from Lhuentse shared some of her observations and experiences regarding the impact of climate change in her village.

“In my village, because of the heat, pests have now infected our lands, so no matter how much we cultivate, our yield is very less. So, women, especially dependent on agriculture for livelihood, due to food insecurity, have no option but to settle down and get married.”

Findings with NCWC also show that there is an increase in male out migration. Talking to women in rural areas, out migration of males are rampant and increasing. Sonam Zangmo, a mother of 3 sons and a daughter, said that all her sons have out migrated from the village, in search of opportunities, but she hopes that her daughter will remain with her and help with farm work and household chores. Many families are in the same predicament in the rural areas.

Sonam Pema shared that the reason many women or girls stop going to school at a young age can be attributed to climate change. “Personally, I have seen my cousins drop out from schools to help their mothers with the house and agricultural works. When the farm yield is less, men go out of the village in search of jobs and opportunities, like lumbering in other villages and women are left home. So, I’ve seen daughters drop out of their schools to help their mothers, and from what I’ve seen, it is mostly daughters that have dropped out.”

The gender disparity can also be seen and felt, in terms of access to information and decision-making. According to the findings, 84 percent of males in rural areas are aware of climate smart and resilient agriculture, whereas only 68 percent of females are aware. 83 percent of males have access to information, training and inputs to enhance climate smart agriculture, whereas only 73 percent of women have access to such information and training.

According to Sangay Dorji, men leave a higher ecological footprint than women. “I think women face higher risks and greater impacts due to climate change, in situation of poverty and sustainable resources. This is because women’s participation in decision-making and labour marketing is inequal, and often prevents women from fully contributing to climate related planning and policy making.”

Women participating in politics, although gradually increasing, is at 15.2 percent, which is considered less, and with failure of discussions on reserving quotas for participation of women in the decision-making level, women leave a less ecological footprint than men.

With regards to mental health, Uma shared that she felt women were more likely to face traumas and psychological issues more than men.

Talking to the Head of Department of Psychiatry, Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital, Dr Ugyen Dema, said that there is a connection between climate change and mental health. “Due to climate related stresses, whether it be direct or indirect stressors has an impact on an individual’s mental health.”

When asked whether there is a difference or more impact felt by women, in terms of climate change stressors, she stated that both men and women are impacted. “Climate change impacts both men and women, however, in general, women are weaker so it can be considered that they are more vulnerable, more prone to depression and anxiety. Nevertheless, both are impacted by climate change directly or indirectly.”

The story is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s project titled “Strengthening the Capacity of Bhutanese Media for Climate Change Reporting”, supported by Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

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