As the planet warms and heatwaves become more frequent and severe, researchers warn that women will bear the brunt of the devastating impact. A report titled ‘The Scorching Divide‘ by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) sheds light on how rising temperatures disproportionately affect women, endangering their work, earnings, and overall well-being.
Heatwaves Claiming Women’s Lives
Extreme heat poses a growing threat to women’s lives across the world. The Arsht-Rock report reveals that in hot years, approximately 204,000 women in India, Nigeria, and the United States could succumb to heat-related deaths. Women are not only more susceptible to physical illnesses caused by extreme heat but are also disproportionately responsible for caring for others who fall ill due to the heat.
Double Burden for Women
Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of Arsht-Rock, explains how extreme heat creates a “double burden” for women. They not only suffer from the adverse health effects but are also expected to care for sick family members or patients, both in paid and unpaid capacities. This caregiving responsibility further exacerbates the toll on women’s physical and mental well-being.
Economic Impact on Women
The impact of rising heat on women’s productivity is substantial. Women, especially from impoverished and marginalized communities, are forced to work longer hours under extreme heat conditions, whether as agricultural laborers or taking on unpaid domestic work. The result is a significant reduction in their earnings, pushing women deeper into poverty or hindering their efforts to climb out of it.
Access to cooling solutions plays a crucial role in mitigating the impact of extreme heat. Unfortunately, many women in impoverished regions lack access to affordable cooling options. The report estimates that about 1.2 billion people globally, particularly from rural and urban poor communities, will be without cooling solutions by 2030. Women spend more time than men doing domestic work, and those without cooling solutions suffer more significant productivity losses.
Health Risks and Pregnant Women
In countries like Nigeria, where heat exacerbates tropical diseases, pregnant women face additional risks. The heat affects fetal growth and complicates the overall health of expectant mothers, leading to higher maternal mortality rates. For example, Nigeria accounts for 20 percent of global maternal deaths, with heat adding yet another complication to an already challenging situation.
Climate Change and Inequality
Climate change amplifies existing societal inequalities, with women from marginalized communities facing the harshest consequences. In regions like Britain, where women from Black communities are at a higher risk of maternal mortality, climate change worsens the challenges they face. The wealthy may afford air-conditioning, but for the poor, this basic necessity remains unattainable due to high electricity costs.
Rising heat compounds existing gender disparities, particularly in rural areas. As droughts impact crop harvests and lead to male migration in search of work, women are left to shoulder the burden of caring for farms and families. Women’s labor, often unseen and undervalued, becomes crucial for sustaining communities but also leaves them vulnerable when they fall ill or need healthcare.
Urgent Action Needed
The findings of the Arsht-Rock report underscore the urgency of addressing the gendered impacts of extreme heat. With global temperatures projected to rise further, swift and comprehensive action is necessary to prevent avoidable deaths and illnesses caused by extreme heat. This involves prioritizing access to cooling solutions for vulnerable communities, investing in women’s empowerment, and implementing climate policies that take gender disparities into account.
The gendered impact of extreme heat is an urgent and pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Women bear the brunt of heatwaves, facing threats to their health, livelihoods, and overall well-being. As the planet continues to warm, concerted efforts are required to tackle climate change, mitigate its effects, and ensure a more equitable and sustainable future for all. Only through collective action can the lives and livelihoods of women and vulnerable communities worldwide be safeguarded.