Why women are often worst hit by climate change

By Harriet Bradshaw
BBC Scotland Climate Change reporter

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Image caption,
Prof Tahseen Jafry, from the Centre for Climate Justice, says that when disasters strike women will usually have more on their plate

Climate change affects every person on the planet but studies have found it affects women more.

The Centre for Climate Justice based at Glasgow Caledonian University puts this down to two things.

Firstly, extreme weather disasters intensify existing inequalities in society.

Secondly, women don't have good enough representation at climate talks to have their say on effective solutions.

More unpaid housework and childcare

It is well documented in UK statistics that during the Covid crisis, on average, women have been doing more unpaid housework and unpaid childcare than men.

They do this while also juggling their paid work and other challenges the pandemic has caused.

Prof Tahseen Jafry, from the Centre for Climate Justice, says the effects of the climate crisis are no different.

She says that when disasters strike women will usually have more on their plate because of additional unpaid roles that are often not recognised.

"So it will be harder to be able to balance the workload when there's severe weather events in Scotland," Prof Jafry says.

"It's important to consider what we're talking about doesn't apply to every household in Scotland. But for many households women are juggling their daily lives."

And for countries already on the frontline of the climate crisis, this isn't just a concern, it is a reality right now, she says.

Working longer and harder

Gender and climate change expert Chimwemwe Nyambosa Ndhlovu, who is from Malawi, explains women and girls in that country will do most of the farming to feed their families, labour in the house, and collect water and wood, all unpaid, alongside making a bit of money themselves.

But these unevenly felt challenges are getting harder because of climate-related issues such as flooding and drought causing problems to their crops and water sanitation. And she told me the tension can lead to gender-based violence.

"In negotiations, we see a lot of men still at the tables, and women are still at the back. So it is difficult for [women] to present our feelings," she says.

Back in Scotland, Prof Jafry explains we need to learn lessons from other parts of the world and women's experiences:

"My concern is that a significant level of fear and not being able to cope and deal with a climate crisis is going to play out in a Scottish context as well," she says.

Image caption,
Shona Seaman had her home flooded out twice

In Brechin, Shona Seaman had her home flooded out twice a few years back.

I decided to revisit her story because more regular and extreme flooding is predicted as an effect of climate change.

As a childminder she had to temporarily shut her business after the flood and later she permanently closed it.

And who was most affected? It was the mums Shona was having to call, who were juggling work and finding last-minute childcare.

"Flooding is traumatic and chaotic, and you can't plan for it," she says.

"And when you're running a business in your own home, and that business is caring for children, it adds another level of complexities.

"So we flooded and that night while I was trying to get my children and my family out of our house, I was also having to phone mums and let them know that I wasn't able to care for their children anymore."

Shona says the flood left her with no income but her husband was still working.

"If I was a single parent, or if our circumstances were different, it would have had a really profound affect on us," she says.

"And certainly women with micro-businesses and things in other parts of the world, if they lose those, then they've lost everything."

Giving women a voice

Women in Scotland are fighting for their place at the table in climate talks.

Gilded Lily in Glasgow runs workshops and programmes to empower women to have their say on climate change.

Image caption,
Sajida Rashid with a dress she made as part of the Glasgow Climate Sisters project

Sajida Rashid has been on a journey.

Her parents originally came from Pakistan to Scotland and while she was born and brought up here, she says she's had a fear of speaking out because of her background.

"I think bigger steps need to be taken and we're maybe not given a platform to do that," she says.

"I worked on a climate leadership programme last year, and learned a lot from it. I found my voice. Changes have to be made."

Zarina Ahmad, a climate communicator who works with these women, says such steps are key.

"Look at women for solutions and resilience - and don't speak on behalf of women, which is what we often get, especially women of colour. Give us space, let us have our voices, and let us be heard."