Women’s climate change adaptability affected by environmental stress

women's climate change adaptability
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A new study has found that women’s adaptability to climate change may be hampered by factors including male migration and poor working conditions.

‘A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa’, conducted by researchers from India, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK, was published this week in the Nature Climate Change journal. The study’s authors examined the impact of ‘environmental stress’ – including socioeconomic and ecological circumstances – on the ability of women to respond to climate-related changes to their lives. Data was drawn from 25 case studies of key areas affected by climate change across three distinct region types: semi-arid areas; mountains and river basins; and deltas.

The study found that even where social norms and legal protections are largely supportive of women, their sociopolitical agency is weakened by increased household responsibilities. This is particularly noticeable in young and less educated women, as well as those who belong to marginalised ethnicities, castes and classes. Male migration for work purposes may increase households’ net incomes; however financial support from absent male partners and relatives in these cases was shown to be irregular and not wholly reliable. The study emphasised that the majority of the women who appeared in the case studies were compelled to work harder for lower wages, in poorer working conditions; and with negative impacts on their health and wellbeing.

Professor Nitya Rao of the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia, the study’s lead author, said: “In a sense, women do have voice and agency, as they are actively engaging in both production and reproduction, yet this is not contributing to strengthening longer-term adaptive capacities, or indeed their wellbeing. Our analysis suggests that some common conditions such as male migration and women’s poor working conditions combine with either institutional failure, or poverty, to constrain women’s ability to make choices and decisions. However these barriers, if addressed in creative ways, could potentially strengthen adaptive capacities, and enable more effective adaptation. There appears to be a clear case for regulating labour markets to ensure decent work, whether for women or migrant men, but this is proving difficult in a globalised context.”

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