Governments have been slow to act on the disproportionate weight of climate crises on women and gender-diverse people, writes Paulette Senior, and Canada is no exception. But philanthropists are well positioned to invest in underfunded solutions that leave no one behind, she argues.
It’s a frightening year of broken records, to disastrous effect.
This summer has proven the hottest in Canada since 1950 – and the hottest ever recorded on Earth. The Northwest Territories experienced its hottest days this year, and Lytton, British Columbia, recorded the highest temperature of any city in Canada when it reached 41.4°C in August. Canada’s 2023 carbon emissions from wildfires are double that of previous years.
Underdeveloped regions of the world are covered by more robust research on the gendered impacts of climate change. The research chronicles how burdens like needing to travel farther for supplies fall heavily on girls and women and create ripples like less time for paid work and greater risk of violence en route. Worldwide measures place women as the majority population displaced by climate disasters.
Women, especially Indigenous women and other women of colour and those that are poor, are disproportionately impacted by the mounting climate crisis.Le Conseil des Montréalaises
These early days of gendered climate research in Canada suggest the climate crisis has a way of exacerbating existing sexist inequalities, in combination with other barriers like poverty, colonial displacement, racism, and ageism. As Le Conseil des Montréalaises notes, “women, especially Indigenous women and other women of colour and those that are poor, are disproportionately impacted by the mounting climate crisis [as well as by the fossil fuel industry driving the crisis] while contributing less to greenhouse gas emissions than men” (translated from the original French).
These worsened gendered impacts cut across so many lines of our daily life.
Persistent gender pay gaps in Canada, all the wider for racialized women, Indigenous women, and women with disabilities, reduce capacity to weather economic storms. COVID-19’s economic fallout hurt marginalized women workers in part-time, front-line service, and care-work jobs most of all. Climate emergencies are leading to similar troubles: greater job loss and layoffs and the crunch of heavier caregiving burdens.
Food and housing insecurities driven by surging costs, broken supply chains, and the price gouging common to emergencies are hardest on women with lower incomes, who struggle to feed and shelter themselves and their dependents on a good day. We’ve seen it in previous droughts and floods, and we’re seeing it again in our intensified wildfires.
Pollutants, both the cause and consequence of climate crises, not only pose unique threats to women’s mental, physical, and reproductive health; they also increase the risk to older populations, who are more likely to be women, as we live longer than men. They also compound stressors on primary and long-term healthcare workers and caregivers – also more likely to be women.
And whether they’re the result of extreme weather, viral outbreaks, war and conflict, or some combination of all three, disasters trigger spikes in gender-based violence such as intimate partner abuse and sexual assault. This is devastating in a country like Canada, where 44% of women experience some form of intimate partner violence, Indigenous women are killed at nearly seven times the rate of non-Indigenous women, women with disabilities are three times more likely to experience violent victimization than women without disabilities, and transgender people are more likely to be targeted in public, online, and at work.
Governments have been slow to act on the disproportionate weight of climate crises on women and gender-diverse people. Canada is no exception. While our federal government has adopted climate measures since 2015, it’s unclear just how gender-responsive the plans and actions are.
Governments have been slow to act on the disproportionate weight of climate crises on women and gender-diverse people. Canada is no exception.
The federal government recently described gender-based violence as an epidemic in response to a coroner’s inquest on femicides, following similar epidemic declarations in dozens of Ontario municipalities. Femicide rates spiked in the pandemic emergency across Canada. It’ll take long-term, coordinated action between all levels of government, beyond epidemic declarations, to stop the killings.
This is where we may be hampered by perception limitations of big difficulties that plague everyday people and people with decision-making power alike. Climate crises could act the way pandemics act on us: they may seem too overwhelming, too all-encompassing and overarching to parse their wide-ranging impacts. They feel as if they know no bounds.
Then again, such limited perception is never a given. It could be a function of a colonial, patriarchal worldview and accompanying public policy approach. First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women on Turtle Island acting as water keepers and protectors, land defenders, and advocates for Arctic preservation and decolonizing climate policy have not been so narrow in their understanding of the problems and the solutions. Policy-makers, activists, organizers, donors, and anyone who aims to take action on climate change need to respect and heed their leadership.
Philanthropic dollars to reduce the gendered fallout of climate change . . . are as important as dollars for cleaner fuels and transportation and carbon-dioxide-removal systems.
Philanthropy needs to play its role, too. Philanthropists dedicated to adaptation and mitigation strategies can’t be naive about the gendered implications of climate change. They can’t fall prey to a limited charity approach to big difficulties either.
Too many well-meaning gifts geared toward climate technological innovation miss the mark by not addressing the harms that women, girls, and gender-diverse people experience in our climate crises. Philanthropic dollars to reduce the gendered fallout of climate change – relief for and prevention of widening pay and economic gaps, heavier caregiving burdens, and abuse spikes – are as important as dollars for cleaner fuels and transportation and carbon-dioxide-removal systems.
Philanthropists need to understand how well positioned they are to invest in underfunded solutions that enable a just transition to a better economy, one that builds health and wealth in ways that don’t denigrate the environment or women or marginalized people, that uphold fundamental labour principles and rights so no one is left behind.
Philanthropists can help steer us toward wise principles we’ve lost or never quite solidified in the first place.
What is the point of an economy if not to enable our species’ and our planet’s sustainable flourishing? Philanthropists can help steer us toward wise principles we’ve lost or never quite solidified in the first place: investment in family and community outcomes and not just the individual, donations toward systems change and advocacy as much as short-term relief, bolstering Indigenous women’s leadership in protecting the land, and more.
This is the kind of philanthropy that saves lives and ensures more rights, power, and voice for women and gender-diverse people in the thick of our modern climate crises. It would amplify the virtuous cycle, maximizing and cementing the desired outcomes of our climate change adaptation and mitigation innovations and action.