Women and Girls Face Climate Crisis: Urgent Need for Gender-Responsive Solutions

As climate change accelerates, its impacts are felt disproportionately by women and girls. These challenges are straining health and agrifood systems worldwide, from air pollution and rising temperatures to crop failures and water shortages.

The vulnerability of women and children, particularly girls, is exacerbated by existing inequalities in access to resources, decision-making, and economic opportunities. Addressing these disparities is essential for building climate resilience.

Disproportionate Impact on Women and Girls

Female-headed households are more severely affected by climate shocks, losing 8% more income due to heat stress and 3% more from floods than male-headed households. This significantly reduces off-farm income, livestock holdings, and agricultural expenditures.

Limited education, infrastructure access, and heavy unpaid care work further hinder women’s ability to adapt to climate challenges, increasing their vulnerability.

Food insecurity among adult women rose from 27.5% in 2019 to 31.9% in 2021. Girls face similar hardships, with altered rainfall patterns forcing them to spend more time fetching water and wood, increasing their exposure to violence and reducing school attendance.

Adolescent girls are often forced into marriage to alleviate financial strains caused by extreme weather events, and climate-related displacement pressures on social and health services, including menstrual hygiene and sexual health.

Pathways to Resilience

Overcoming gender inequalities is crucial for climate-resilient development. Inclusive and gender-responsive social protection and agrifood systems can provide women and girls with the resources, services, and economic opportunities needed to build resilience against climate change.

In a worst-case climate scenario, up to 158.3 million more women and girls could be pushed into poverty by mid-century, surpassing the number of men and boys affected by at least 16 million.

Adaptive Social Protection Systems:

Investing in social protection systems can reduce women and girls’ vulnerability to climate and economic shocks. Effective measures include:

– Cash and in-kind assistance

– Livelihood diversification

– Connections to early warning systems

– Access to social services, including health insurance

These measures help households meet basic needs and adopt climate-adaptive practices, reducing the need for harmful coping strategies like child marriage.

Combining social protection with labor market policies, agricultural skills development, and climate insurance can support adaptation and address gender inequalities. These measures must be gender-responsive and age-sensitive to avoid increasing the time burden on women and reinforcing discriminatory labor divisions.

Investments that improve access to social protection and reduce poverty can significantly lower climate risks for 310 million children. UNICEF’s ASPECT project, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, aims to generate evidence on the contributions of adaptive social protection in building household resilience to climate-related shocks in fragile settings.

Inclusive Agrifood Systems:

Agrifood systems are a major livelihood source and employer for women, particularly in South Asia, where 71% of women work in this sector. Empowering women within agrifood systems could enhance the incomes of 58 million people and the resilience of 235 million people.

Gender-responsive interventions in agrifood systems strengthen resilience through:

– Community-based approaches

– Policy engagement

– Increased access to essential resources and services

– Social protection

Programs like IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP+) introduce sustainable technologies for gender-sensitive, climate-resilient practices, ensuring at least 50% of beneficiaries are women and girls.

Call to Action:

Climate financing should focus on inclusive agrifood and social protection systems, with gender-responsive innovations tailored to women’s and girls’ needs. Policymakers, donors, and international organizations are urged to:

1. Finance inclusive, gender-transformative social protection and agrifood systems.

2. Design systems with a gender, age, and disability lens to address specific vulnerabilities.

3. Improve women’s and girls’ access to resources, services, employment, social assistance, and insurance.

4. Collect and disseminate gender-disaggregated data to guide inclusive policies and investments.

5. Support gender-responsive budgeting for climate action to ensure financial resources are allocated toward gender equality and women’s empowerment.

By adopting these measures, the global community can build a more resilient and equitable future for all, especially for the most vulnerable populations.

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