The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that greenhouse gases and aerosols will alter the energy balance of the climate system. Over the next two decades it is projected that there will be a warming of 0.2°C (IPCC, 2007). Climate changes are expected to have unprecedented effects on people worldwide, particularly through the increase in natural disasters. Social, economic and geographical characteristics will determine the vulnerability of people to climate change. Many studies have determined that poor women are more vulnerable to natural disasters given socially constructed gender roles and behavior.
A study of disasters in 141 countries provided decisive evidence that gender differences in deaths from natural disasters are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights. In inequitable societies, women are more vulnerable to disasters; for example, boys are likely to receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts and both women and girls suffer more from shortages of food and economic resources in the aftermath of disasters.
Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during a disaster. In the 1991 cyclone disasters which killed 140,000 inBangladesh, for example, 90 percent of victims were women. Similarly, in industrialized countries, more women than men died during the 2003 European heat wave. During Hurricane Katrina in theUnited States, African-American women, who were the poorest population in that part of the country, faced the greatest obstacles to survival. During the 2006 Indian Ocean tsunami, more women died than men – for example in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, male survivors outnumber female survivors by three or four to one.
Although women are disproportionately impacted by disasters and swift environmental changes, women have also contributed to curbing the impacts of climate change. Women’s knowledge and responsibilities related to natural resource management have proven to be critical to community survival.