Warning: contains mentions of sexual and gender-based violence that some readers may find upsetting.
The climate crisis is affecting those living in poverty the most. But perhaps less well known is the fact that climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. We need to understand why the changing climate affects women differently from men, so we as the church can ensure no one is left behind.
One of the main reasons for this inequality is related to the roles women and girls play in society. In many climate-vulnerable countries about half of small-scale farmers are women. This means that they play a key role in ensuring enough food and money is coming into the home.
When drought comes as a result of the changing climate, there are fewer crops to sell or eat, or there may be only one type of grain available. So households’ food and finance dwindle, and where men work away from home for several months of the year, female-headed households are left even more vulnerable.
In many homes, girls are responsible for fetching the water. But as the climate crisis dries up water sources, the daily journey for water becomes longer and even more challenging.
Jessica Bwali, a climate activist from Zambia, tells us how these changes are affecting young girls in her country and impacting their ability to go to school.
‘In one of the villages in the southern part of Zambia,’ Jessica says, ‘I had an opportunity to speak to women and young girls there, and they were telling me just how hard it’s been to make sure they have water in the house because the closest river that they could draw water from is usually dry.
‘The way it is… it’s more of a girl child’s duty to do those things. As a result, she has to stay away from class – or if she goes to class, she’s tired. She goes to class way later than the boy child because she had to take care to make sure that she draws the water back home before leaving.’
This has a huge impact on girls’ education, meaning they fall behind boys and may be denied the same opportunities.
Climate change has also been linked to an increase in violence, to which women and girls are more vulnerable. Financial pressures and hunger, exacerbated by failed harvests and drought, are linked to increases in domestic violence. For similar reasons, instances of child marriage have reportedly increased during times of drought; likewise, women who go in search of alternative locations to fish become more susceptible to sexual violence.
This is not God’s heart. We are all made in the image of God, equal in value and importance to him (Genesis 1:27). He cares for us and promises to watch over us as he does the sparrows (Matthew 10:29).
That means he sees every step that women and girls take to fetch water, the disappointment and hunger they face when crops fail, and every time they face violence and discrimination. God sees each woman and girl and does not ignore their suffering (2 Thessalonians. 1:6). And because ‘God loves justice’ (Psalm 37:28), we do too.
‘What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)
How you can join us
Tearfund is currently working in East Africa with local partners to provide relief for the hunger crisis there, brought about by shortages of rain for four successive seasons. You can partner with us through prayer for our projects and for the women and girls affected by the crisis, or you can give to our Forgotten Crises appeal.
We are also calling on the UK Government to deliver on its promise of climate finance to help climate-vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of climate change. You join us by signing our petition and praying that women have equal access to climate finance, and that climate action means justice for everyone.