What is the impact of climate change and debt on gender equality and women's rights?

In the case of gender justice, women and children are disproportionately impacted by climate change as well as by austerity measures that usually follow a debt crisis. Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking, which is affected both by climate extreme events and by elimination or reduction of food or energy subsidies because of high debt levels. Their access to gender specific health services is also increasingly compromised both by the impacts of climate extreme events and cuts in public services to repay sovereign debts. Climate disasters also aggravate women’s unpaid care and domestic work in their homes and communities, in the same way that debt does. In addition, women face a heightened risk of  gender-based violence during and following disasters, while fiscal consolidation to bring debt levels down usually affects public services for gender violence survivors.

Women are simultaneously the most adversely impacted by climate change and environmental degradation, and yet are indispensable actors and leaders of just and effective solutions.

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network

Cumulative impacts of climate and debt crises on women’s rights and gender justice

  Impacts of the climate emergency Impacts of the debt crisis
Access to food, water, housing and income Loss of harvest, shortage of food and increasing prices, shortage of water, destruction of homes and loss of jobs and salaries. Cuts in government social investment, cuts in food subsidies, inability to fund reconstruction of infrastructure after a climate extreme event.
Health Higher incidence of the health risks related to the climate crisis, including undernutrition and malaria Cuts and privatisation of health services
Violence against women Higher risk of being placed in unsafe, overcrowded shelters. Girls taken out of school and increase in forced marriages. Less resources to provide safe shelter after a climate extreme event. Cuts in services for gender based violence survivors
Unpaid care work Increase of domestic and care work after a climate disaster. Increase of domestic and care work as an increasing debt undermines public services

Source: Iolanda Fresnillo Sallan (2020) Debt and climate: entangled emergencies derailing women’s rights and gender justice, Gender & Development, 28:3, 499-513

Women’s leadership in decision-making around climate and environmental policies, as well as in financial and debt policies is critical. Yet women are still under-represented in climate and economic policy development, decision making and implementation, especially indigenous women and the transgender community.

Beyond the cumulative impact on women’s rights and gender justice, debt and climate vulnerabilities also have impacts on migration flows, and human rights protection.