Climate Change and Women

Global impacts of environmental change on women and poverty

By Whitney Ricker, Climate Advocacy Intern, Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions

Climate change is not often thought of as a gender issue, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that women are particularly vulnerable to its impacts. As we continue to see an increase in natural disasters and environmental degradation, global poverty and suffering are also increased, further marginalizing vulnerable populations. In many parts of the world, women are at a significant disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts, making their survival during times of crisis much more difficult.

MCC partner ANADES (Asociacion Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador or New Dawn Association of El Salvador) distributed food in communities affected by drought in the Cuisnahuat and San Julian municipalities of El Salvador. MCC photo/Luke and Rachel Yoder Penner

Globally, women between the ages of 25 and 34 are 22 percent more likely to live in poverty as compared to men. Women in the Global South are often responsible for a myriad of household duties, including but not limited to: raising children, “domestic” chores, agricultural chores, and gathering water. Drought, famine and other disasters can make these tasks more burdensome, with the survival of the family and livelihood falling on the shoulders of the female family members.

Help during times of disaster can be much harder to come by for women and girls, as men and boys are often rescued before women are attended to, according to the United Nations. Following natural disasters, rates of sexual assault are much higher, and the ensuing chaos can make it easier for human traffickers to force women and children into sexual slavery.

In the United States, women are 35 percent more likely than men to be affected by poverty, and while all ethnic groups face poverty, women of color account for more than 78 percent of women affected. Women in the U.S., much like their global counterparts, face extreme difficulties during and after natural disasters; for example, after Hurricane Katrina, rates of sexual assault were high in overcrowded refugee shelters. Many New Orleans residents, especially single mothers, could not afford to return and rebuild their homes and continue to live as internally displaced people in cities throughout the United States.

In February 2018, Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Women and Climate Change Act of 2018, which aims to address these discrepancies by forming a woman-led panel to consider the specific challenges that women face due to climate change. While the bill has little chance of becoming law this Congress, it raises issues that we should continue to highlight with policymakers.

With midterm elections approaching, it is important to urge policymakers to speak out on issues related to the environment and women. The Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions has created a special climate change election guide to help you engage with policymakers and candidates this election season.

As Christians, it is our duty to protect our environment and our fellow human beings; and as Genesis 1:27 reminds us, both male and female were created in God’s image. We cannot let vulnerable populations continue to suffer and must advocate for equality for all.


The Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS) is a collaborative initiative of Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, and Mennonite Central Committee to lead Anabaptist efforts to respond to the challenges of climate change.