On the Climate Crisis, We Are All Suffering, But Women from the South Are Suffering More

In the post-Cold War era, as the risk of major armed conflicts and wars between states declined, other threats of a non-war nature began to gain prominence and consideration.

In the post-Cold War era, as the risk of major armed conflicts and wars between states declined, other threats of a non-war nature began to gain prominence and consideration. Climate change is now a significant threat to all humanity and a source of serious global concern. However, this article will highlight the assertion that the climate crisis is experienced in groups. Factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and social position can result in different experiences of security (Fox et al., 2009), in which case women from the global South are disproportionately affected by climate change due to pre-existing inequalities.

A report by the Nigerian Environmental Study Team (2011) shows that women experience climate change differently from men. In some ways, women are more vulnerable than men because most of them are poor. Women make up a large percentage of the world’s poor, about 70 per cent of whom aged 15 years and above are out of school or have little primary education, and most of whom are from Southern countries (World Bank, 2021). Climate change acts as a threat multiplier to existing issues of gender inequality, increasing the problems of marginalisation faced by women. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) notes that women face higher risks and experience greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. Nevertheless, women are often excluded from discussions about security (Blanchard, 2003; Hansen, 2000; Woolnough, 2009).

Understanding Women’s Multiple Vulnerabilities in the Global South

Feminist scholars argue that many security issues affect women more directly than men. For example, 80-90 per cent of war victims are civilians, and the majority of them are women and children; women are sexually assaulted as tools of war; domestic violence against women is particularly rampant in military communities (Tickner, 1995). Sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls occurred in Northern Iraq, and sexual and physical abuse of Rohingya women and girls in Myanmar (Prügl, 2019). Thus, in the 1990s, feminists began to challenge approaches to security that centred on the state as the sole actor. Tickner (1992) argued that truly comprehensive security cannot be achieved until gendered relations of domination and subordination are eliminated.

The term Southern countries refers broadly to Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania regions that are often politically marginalised or low-income (Dados & Conell, 2012). Two definitions of vulnerability form the basis of why women in the global South fulfil a fundamental urgency in discussions of human security. The first is proposed by Adger (2006), and Otto et al. (2017), who states that vulnerability is a state of being susceptible to harm due to exposure to stresses associated with environmental and social change and the absence of capacity to adapt. Rao et al. (2020) added that vulnerability is closely related to various risks that are not only climate, market and social but also related to the social, cultural, political and institutional context in which the community is located.

Such vulnerability is significantly felt in countries of the South. The negative impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, such as long-term changes in average temperature and precipitation; changes in the intensity, timing and geographic distribution of rainfall; increased frequency of extreme events such as droughts and floods; and sea level rise (IPCC, 2007; Verner, 2011). The rural poor in developing countries, many of whom are already food insecure, are likely to be most severely affected. Most need adaptation strategies and development assistance to cope with changing weather patterns (Keane et al., 2009). Nevertheless, the poor, vulnerable and marginalised within these countries have the least ability and opportunity to prepare for the impacts of climate change, given their limited resources (Nelson et al., 2010). In summary, there is substantial instability in the South on political, economic and social fronts, which will magnify future climate change impacts such as severe weather events. This widespread instability will result in population displacement, ethnic and regional conflicts, famine, and infectious diseases (Roy, 2018).

However, that is not all because, according to a report by UN WomenWatch (2009), while both men and women in developing countries are vulnerable to climate change, those charged with securing water, food and cooking fuel face the most significant challenges. In addition, Quisumbing (2009) found that women typically own fewer assets and rights than men, are more vulnerable to losing them through separation, divorce, or widowhood, and have less access to capital, extension, inputs, and resources for agricultural production. Women’s vulnerability to climate change is also manifested in higher mortality rates among them during times of disaster. The higher mortality record among women during climate disasters is also partly related to women’s patriarchal-induced vulnerability (Arora-Jonsson, 2011), as is the case in Nigeria. Another study by Hyland and Russ (2018) found that childhood exposure to drought can negatively impact offspring quality. This impact can result in stunted offspring of women with drought exposure. In South Sudan, families with limited resources will marry off their daughters to wealthy pastoralist men (Ensor, 2014).

The impacts of climate change on vulnerable neighbourhoods can exacerbate sexual and gender-based violence. For example, because of their gender roles, women and girls who have to walk longer distances to collect water or wood are more at risk of exposure to rape and robbery (Horton, 2012). Sexual violence also occurs in Bangladesh, which also increases the amount of sexual violence against women in some areas. It was revealed that male shrimp labourers are generally from outside the local area and are considered the main reason for the increase in sexual violence (Patwary, 2011).

These facts show that the climate and human security crises are inextricably linked to variations in gender and place. Thus, given that women in developing countries are expected to experience significant climate change impacts, understanding the extent of climate change impacts in the global South is particularly important.


As Maathai (2008) argues, women in the global South are, on average, more vulnerable to environmental impacts, not only because they do not have the resources to adjust to climate change but also because they do not live in states or regions that can have specific resources. Those privileged – such as those from Northern countries – are less likely to be affected by climate change, as they have the means to adapt. Overall, gender remains marginalised in conflict and climate research. Following the discussion in this article, a gender perspective is urgently needed to understand the complex linkages between climate change and conflict, in line with Cockburn’s (2010) argument that gender relations are an “intrinsic, interwoven and inescapable part” of conflict analysis. It is important to consider women’s different experiences and knowledge to minimise conflict and build a more equitable global society resilient to climate change.

Laila Hanifah
Laila Hanifah
Graduate student of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. Interested in gender and international politics; women, peace, and security; and peace studies. Engaged in activism as Head of the Women's Department of the Central Board of the Muhammadiyah Student Association 2021-2023.