The Facts About Gender and Climate Change

What is climate change and how is it linked to gender equality and justice?

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. It is primarily caused by human reliance on burning fossil fuels, which traps heat around the Earth and increases overall temperature (United Nations).

Rising temperatures result in intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms, and declining biodiversity (United Nations).

Extreme weather events are becoming more common and severe in Canada, impacting immediate health and safety, economy and livelihoods, as well as longer-term social trends (Statistics Canada, 2023).

Climate change has gendered impacts. Climate crisis intensifies existing inequalities faced by women, girls, and gender-diverse people, especially those who are most vulnerable (UN Women, 2022).

Why is it urgent to address the intersection of climate change and gender in Canada?

  • Canada is warming at more than double the global rate, and Canada’s Arctic is warming at about three times the global rate. This puts Northern and Indigenous communities at particular risk of climate change impacts (Government of Canada, 2023).

  • Intersectional gender-based analysis has been missed in Canada’s emergency preparedness planning, meaning that the unique needs of women, girls, and gender-diverse people are under-addressed when climate disasters happen (Jean Slick, Royal Roads University, 2022).
  • As climate events become more frequent, community organizations and service providers throughout Canada will face increased demand. Though they are best positioned to meet the unique needs of their communities, they remain underfunded and lack the resources to face these growing challenges (Diane Hill, Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2022).

Frequently Asked Questions About Gender and Climate Change

Climate change events like fires, floods, and heat waves can result in:

  • Spikes in rates of gender-based violence
  • Job and income disruptions and losses
  • Food and housing insecurity
  • Transportation interruptions and barriers
  • Evacuation and displacement
  • Physical and mental health issues
  • Reduced access to medical, community, and social services

Women and gender-diverse people facing multiple forms of marginalization and inequality will experience climate change impacts more intensely and face more barriers to recovery.

The term environmental racism is used to describe how marginalized people, including Indigenous and racialized communities, often face disproportionate exposure to environmental pollutants and hazards (Canadian Geographic, 2023).

Gender-based violence

Research shows gender-based violence spikes during and after crisis events including pandemics, wildfires, floods, and heatwaves (Dr. D. Gaye Warthe, Mount Royal University, 2022).

After the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, demand for services related to intimate partner violence and abuse skyrocketed and the RCMP also noted a rise in domestic violence (Anya Zoledziowski, Vice News, 2020; Keith Gerein, Edmonton Sun, 2017).

The gendered impacts of crises tends to reverberate for a long time. For example, elevated rates of femicide have continued since the emergency period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The killing of women and girls by male perpetrators increased by 27 per cent in 2022, compared to 2019 (Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 2022).

Mental health

Today, there is a widespread sense of living in global polycrisis as we navigate pandemic recovery, economic downturns and inflation, outbreaks of armed conflict, and increasingly frequent climate events (Kate Whiting, World Economic Forum, 2023). This contributes to increased anxiety and concern about the future.

Seventy-five per cent of people in Canada are experiencing climate change anxiety and those aged 18 to 34 are most concerned (81%) (Unite for Change, 2023).

Women tend to face a higher risk of mental health issues including anxiety, worry, and PTSD related to climate change (Health Canada, 2022).

Girls and young women aged 14 to 29 are more likely than boys to experience anxiety about climate change and the environment (30%) than boys and young men (24%) in the same age group (Ipsos/RBC, 2023).

Reproductive choices and outcomes

Concerns about pandemics, economic uncertainty, and climate change are impacting family planning decisions (Vanier Institute of the Family, 2023).

One in five people in Canada (21%) say they are having fewer or no children to take action against climate change (Unite for Change, 2023).

Pregnant people are more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change. Research indicates that rising temperatures and heat stress can contribute to preterm birth, low fetal weight, and stillbirth (Frontiers in Endocrinology, 2023).

Exposure to wildfire pollutants can cause particular health issues for pregnant people and increase risk of low birth weight and fetal malformations (BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, 2023).

The cultures, traditions, and economies of many Indigenous communities are tightly intertwined with land, natural resources, and the ability to predict weather patterns. Climate change uniquely threatens Indigenous livelihoods, ways of living, ceremonies, food security, infrastructure, and holistic health.

Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people are traditionally viewed as caretakers of the land, water, and people, and as the primary users of natural resources. Climate change can impact traditional food gathering and storage methods, water levels and quality, as well as hunting and fishing practices. This ultimately threatens food security, financial and family stability, mental and physical health, and women often bear the brunt of coping with these issues (Native Women’s Association of Canada).

All around the world, Indigenous women lead the way in climate justice and action (The World Bank, 2022). They are attuned to and vocal about the many ways melting permafrost and rising temperatures affect land, people, animals, housing, culture, and work. Their leadership in crisis management is invaluable (United Nations Climate Change, 2021). Still, they tend to be underrepresented in emergency planning and decision-making.

Current responses to climate change, including reducing emissions and transitioning to clean and sustainable energy sources, don’t necessarily address gendered implications or include diverse women.

Although women’s representation in STEM sectors has increased, they remain underrepresented in Canada’s environmental and green energy sector, where 71 per cent of workers are men (Mark Ramzy, Toronto Star, 2023).

One of the key ways to mitigate the gendered impacts of climate change is to approach climate policies and initiatives, as well as emergency response and crisis planning, with a gender-based-plus analysis from the outset.

But recent research (Jean Slick, Royal Roads University, 2022) points to the intersectional gender gap in federal, provincial and territorial emergency and pandemic plans, which don’t get into many specifics about gender or explain how social vulnerabilities (such as living on a low income, lack of access to housing or transportation), are taken into account. While planning documents may acknowledge marginalized groups including migrants, sex workers, and homeless and underhoused people, few reference consultation or engagement with them.

In order to better plan for the needs of communities throughout Canada and support traditionally marginalized populations, increased efforts toward consultation and diversity are needed in emergency planning processes. Women and gender-diverse people who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination should be top of mind in the risk assessment and planning process. People with lived experience and the service providers who support them should be at these planning tables from the start.

Women’s and equity-seeking organizations are often well positioned to serve their communities in times of crisis, but lack the funding, staff and resources to do so. Investment in building the capacity of these essential service providers will help them better plan for climate “shocks”, and have the staff and resources in place to continue their work when it’s needed most.

Last Update: April 16, 2024

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The Foundation has collaborated on research into the missing gender-based analysis in Canada’s emergency planning and we are using our platform to raise awareness and advocate for closing the gender gap in disaster preparedness.

We advocate at the federal government level for increased core funding to women’s and equality-seeking organizations, so that they are better equipped to serve their communities through crises.

In 2023, the Foundation co-hosted the Shockproofing Communities Summit with Women’s Shelters Canada, bringing together more than 500 people from the GBV sector to address how Canada can prepare for, respond to, and prevent spikes in gender-based violence in times of crisis.

We have produced resources and toolkits for gender-based violence organizations to support preparation for emergency situations, such as Service Continuity Guidelines, and a toolkit for addressing gender-based violence in the 2SLGBTQI+ community.