Climate crises deny women power over their own bodies.
Laura Joaquim Amandio lost the roof of her house during Cyclone Idai. Since then, she and her husband have struggled to provide for their two children. She wants to delay having another child until she can find better work and provide for her family.
Laura and her neighbors work to rebuild after Cyclone Idai.
Women are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change because they lack power. This means they bear the brunt of climate-related events and environmental stress.
Women and girls have more family responsibilities than men, but have less money and mobility, less access to health care and less decisionmaking authority—including over their own reproductive health. Women and girls are at higher risk of gender-based violence and unwanted pregnancy if they live in places affected by climate change, yet reproductive health care—including abortion and contraceptive services—are likely to be disrupted by climate disasters.
I am always thinking about my daughter’s future. I cannot do anything for her. I want to educate her.
Nur Banu, age 20, lives with her parents and her young daughter, Ema, in the coastal community of Chandni Mukha in Bangladesh. The family lost two houses during the recent cyclones Bulbul and Amphan. Nur now has to walk 30 minutes to get clean water.
Without adequate access to health care and education, Nur says “girls face a lot of problems here,” especially related to pregnancy. Families can’t afford to go to the doctor, and as a result, young women sometimes die during childbirth—and from abortions performed in unsafe conditions or by untrained providers. Her elder sister tried to end an unwanted pregnancy secretly and was sick for weeks before the family could take her to the hospital.
Nur doesn’t want her daughter to suffer as she has, and she knows what it would take to improve things: “If girls get an education institute and a hospital, that could help them greatly.”
How climate change denies women power
Women and girls are often responsible for gathering food and water. In a landscape altered by climate change, a longer walk to water or a new food source can make them more vulnerable to rape and subsequent unwanted pregnancy.
Crop failure due to drought can mean a family cannot afford contraception or a safe abortion.
A family facing severe hunger may sacrifice their young daughter for transactional sex or early forced marriage.
Women in humanitarian settings caused by climate disasters are often exposed to rape, harassment, discrimination, and violence—and have limited access to reproductive health care.
The power of preventing unwanted pregnancy
All women deserve to have the power to control their own fertility. In the face of climate disasters, without access to contraception or abortion, many women are not able to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and struggle to provide for the children they already have.
Soumika, age 22 and pregnant with her first child, lives with her husband and in-laws in the coastal village of Koyra in Bangladesh. During Cyclone Amphan in May 2020, the family lost their house.
“We suffered terribly,” Soumika says. “In our locality there is no shelter where women can be safe. One of my sisters-in-law gave birth during the disaster in a nearby house, another sister-in-law was about to give birth.” She says women in her village don’t have access to contraception or a health facility. During childbirth, women must travel far for help if there are complications.
No matter how many cyclones there are, no matter how many floods there are, no matter how much rain there is, the woman still stays in the home. She is still the support, her children’s support. She is the one who carries the whole family.