WHISE sits in a region that includes rural peri-urban areas impacted by natural disasters such as fire, flood and drought. The areas on the edge of Melbourne from Cardinia Shire through to the Mornington Peninsula have experienced the impact of climate change. Increasingly, the impact has been felt throughout other parts of our region which has had a flow on impact to urban areas.

The impact of climate change occurs across all aspects and all stages of a woman’s life. Indeed, climate change exacerbates the existing health disparities, inequalities and vulnerabilities ​(Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women, 2017).

As noted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), women, especially those in poverty, face higher risks and experience a greater burden of climate change impacts. This is notably true for health impacts, making climate change a risk multiplier for gender-based health disparities. Both men and women are at risk for amplified health impacts.

(Sorensen, et al., 2018)

The risks to women are categorised, reported and listed through such organisations as the World Health Organisation, International Red Cross and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.  For women, the impacts include decreased life expectancy and disproportionate mortality, higher risk of physical, sexual and domestic violence (especially in the aftermath of disasters), amplified impact on mental health (increased risk with other overlapping factors such as socioeconomic and education level), and increased vulnerability through pregnancy ​(Sorensen, et al., 2018)​.

Climate change is recognised as a “threat multiplier”, meaning it escalates social, political and economic tensions in fragile and conflict-affected settings. As climate change drives conflict across the world, women and girls face increased vulnerabilities to all forms of gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of violence (such as domestic violence)​ (UN Women , 2022)​. Research has found that violence against women increases following disaster. For example, following Hurricane Katrina in the US, intimate partner violence increased four-fold ​(Anastario, et al., 2009)​; and following the Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand, police recorded a 53% increase in domestic violence call-outs ​(Lynch, 2010)​.

Studies have found that men and women do not report experiencing the same negative health consequences in the wake of an extreme event ​(World Health Organisation, 2014)​. A review of census information to examine the effects of natural disasters across 141 countries has shown that although everyone experiences hardship, on average more women than men are killed and have a lowered life expectancy ​(World Health Organisation, 2014)​. Furthermore, these effects are greater for women with a lower socio-economic status ​(World Health Organisation, 2014)​. These findings demonstrate how socially constructed and gender-specific vulnerabilities of women are negatively impacted by natural disasters.

Considering the impact of gender on our responses to climate change, we can see how these social constructs of gender have both a direct and an indirect impact on people’s lives. Specifically, this can be seen in how constructed norms, stereotypes and behaviours increase risk in climate change and its compounding impact on our environment.

Socially constructed roles also influence the individual disaster responses of men. Within Latino cultures, for instance, expectations of male “heroism” require men to act courageously, thus forcing them into risky behaviour patterns in the face of danger and making them more likely to die in an extreme event…In the South Asian context, social norms that regulate appropriate dress codes in accordance with notions of modesty may hinder women and girls from learning to swim, which can severely reduce their chances of survival in flooding disasters. ​(World Health Organisation, 2014, p. 13)​