Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 10 April 2024

The climate crisis is not gender neutral

Relevance: GS Paper I & III

Why in News?

The climate crisis does not impact everyone equally. Women and girls experience disproportionately high health risks, especially in situations of poverty, and due to existing roles, responsibilities and cultural norms.

Disproportionate impact of climate change:

  • According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster.
  • Recently, the  Supreme Court of India ruled that people have the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change, and the right to a clean environment is already recognised as a fundamental right within the right to life.
  1. Role of agriculture in the livelihoods of women:
  • Agriculture is the most important livelihood source for women in India, particularly in rural India.
    • Climate-driven crop yield reductions increase food insecurity, adversely impacting poor households that already suffer higher nutritional deficiencies.
    • Within small and marginal landholding households, while men face social stigma due to unpaid loans (leading to migration, emotional distress, and sometimes even suicide), women experience higher domestic work burdens, worse health, and greater intimate partner violence.
  • When compared to districts without droughts in the past 10 years, National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4 and 5 data showed that women living in drought-prone districts were more underweight, experienced more intimate partner violence and had a higher prevalence of girl marriages.
    • For women, the increasing food and nutritional insecurity, work burdens and income uncertainties lead not only to poor physical health, but also impact their mental health and emotional well-being.
  1. Extreme events and gender-based violence:
  • Studies are increasingly showing a direct correlation between natural disasters and gender-based violence against women. The world is witnessing an increasing frequency of extreme weather events and climate-induced natural hazards.
    • A 2021 Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) report found that 75% of Indian districts are vulnerable to hydromet disasters (floods, droughts, and cyclones).
      • NFHS 5 data showed that over half of women and children living in these districts were at risk.
  • Extreme weather events and subsequent changes in water cycle patterns severely impact access to safe drinking water, increasing the drudgery and reducing time for productive work and health care of women and girls.
  1. Impacts of climate change on human health:
  • Prolonged heat is particularly dangerous for pregnant women (increasing the risk of preterm birth and eclampsia), young children, and the elderly.
    • The past decade has been the hottest recorded in human history, and countries like India are likely to face unprecedented heatwaves.
  • Similarly, exposure to pollutants in the air (household and outdoor) affects women’s health, causing respiratory and cardiovascular disease and also the unborn child, impairing its physical and cognitive growth.
    • One of the most worrying aspects of air pollution is its impact on the growing brain.
    • Emerging data from cohort studies in India show that for every 10 micrograms per cubic metre increase in PM 2.5, the risk of lung cancer increases by 9%, the risk of cardiovascular deaths on the same day by 3%, and stroke by 8%. For dementia, the risk increased by 4% for 2 micrograms increase in annual PM 2.5.

Significance of women in climate action:

  • Climate action needs the participation of the entire population to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C as per the Paris Agreement.
  • Women play a crucial role in climate action; empowering them can lead to better climate solutions.
    • Women increased their agricultural yields by 20% to 30% when provided with equal access to resources.
  • Tribal and rural women have taken the lead in environmental conservation efforts.
  • We can encourage local solutions by providing women and women's collectives (Self-help Groups and Farmer-Producer Organisations) with knowledge, tools, and access to resources.
    • Because the adaptation measures will vary in rural and urban areas based on the context, such as exposure to heat, air pollution, and access to water and food.

Way forward:

  1. Addressing prolonged heatwaves:
  • Protection measures for the more vulnerable, such as outdoor workers, pregnant women, infants, young children, and the elderly, need to be prioritised, and preventive measures also need to be taken.
  • Local authorities, including urban local bodies, municipal corporations and district authorities, in all vulnerable districts must have a plan in place and provide training and resources to key implementers.
    • The plan should include heat wave warnings, which will be based on local temperature, plus humidity, a change in timings for outdoor work and schools, cooling rooms in health facilities, public drinking water facilities, and immediate treatment of those with heat stroke to minimise deaths.
      • It will reduce the number of deaths during heat waves and check the loss of productivity, which affects small and large businesses and the economy as a whole.
  • Longer-term actions should also be considered, such as urban planning to improve tree cover, minimise concrete, increase green-blue spaces, and design better housing to withstand heat.
    • For example, the Mahila Housing Trust in Udaipur showed that painting the roofs of low-income houses with reflective white paint reduced indoor temperatures by 3° C to 4° C and improved the quality of life.
  1. Tackling water shortages:
  • Water scarcity poses a major threat to the survival of society, and addressing it requires a collective effort from all members of the community.
  • Traditionally, India had one of the most advanced systems for rainwater harvesting and storage, with a system of ponds and canals.
    • Recent research conducted by the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation in some districts of Tamil Nadu revealed that using geographic information systems, the panchayat could identify key water sources, assess climate-related risks and vulnerabilities, and develop a comprehensive plan to enhance water accessibility by leveraging government initiatives and resources.
  1. Community-level involvement:
  • The convergence of different sectors and services and prioritising actions can be best achieved at the village or panchayat level.
  • India can devolve powers and finances and invest in building the capacity of panchayat and SHG members to demonstrate resilience in a community-led and participatory way.
  1. Understanding gender dynamics in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts:
  • It is important to ensure that a gender perspective is included in all State action plans related to climate change.
    • The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) recognise the impact of climate change on women.
      • However, they often portray women as victims and fail to consider deeper gender dynamics. Women should not be labelled as victims but rather be empowered to lead the way in climate action.
    • A review of 28 SAPCCs revealed a lack of transformative approaches, with only a few acknowledging women as agents of change.
  • The ongoing revision of SAPCCs should emphasise the need to move beyond stereotypes, recognise the vulnerabilities of all genders, and implement gender-transformative strategies.
    • This will ensure a comprehensive and equitable approach to climate adaptation.


There is an intersectionality between climate change impacts and gender inequality. Climate change affects women differently, and not all women face the same level of risk. It is important to gather more information about the various factors that make certain groups of women more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This will help to provide targeted protection measures and support for those who need it the most. Meanwhile, there is a need for a more inclusive and gender-sensitive approach to climate action in India.

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