• The Calypso Journal

How Climate Change Affects Minorities

by: Milena Vergara Climate change itself does not have an agenda against minorities, however, minorities might be affected by the economic, social, geographical, and political factors involved. Everyone is or will be experiencing the effects of climate change as it does not discriminate. In sociology, a minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage as compared to members of a dominant social group. Minorities such as women, indigenous people, elderly and vulnerable, low economically developed countries are more prone to being heavily affected by natural disasters, as well as the aftermath and long-term impact of climate change. This article will take into consideration the anthropogenic climate change and its effects; this refers to climate change that is accelerated by human activity. Therefore, this implies that the rate of change in climate has been multiplying exponentially at a rate never seen before, (as opposed to climate that might have been a result of Earth's natural process).

How gender plays a role

In every culture, the relations and roles of women and men are dictated by norms and values, which in turn give rise to gender differences as well as gender inequalities. Gender is not the main factor which causes these differences between men and women, there are many other factors which may overlap. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, effects of climate change and our ability to adapt and handle them are dependent on social factors such as gender. This was shown by WHO in their investigation of Why there were more female fatalities than men in floods in Nepal. The higher number of women deaths could arguably show the discriminatory practices that exist in poorer areas; males were often the ones benefiting from resources such as aid and food, while females were last to be allocated resources if any. This has been seen throughout history, demonstrating how this has been a reoccurring issue. Not only have women received less food but also medical attention. Additionally, due to gender norms, women may be at a disadvantage when it comes to important life skills. Aguilar (2004) states that, for instance, in some Latin American and Asian cultures, girls are not taught howș to swim, which could severely decrease their chances of survival in water related natural disasters. They may not be taught how to swim because it may hinder notions of modesty, due to swim dress code. The 2015 Paris Agreement recognised that women were disproportionately impacted by climate change and they should be ensured specific provision for women's empowerment and aid during natural disasters. European studies have also shown that women are more at risk of dying in heat-waves. It has been found that rape peaks after a natural disaster which makes the aftermath more dangerous for women. And United Nations, UN, figures show that 80% of displaced people due to climate change are women. While we might see women and children receiving “priority” at shelters such as entering first, women (including minors) are often raped and sexually assaulted by guards and other co-habitants in shelters where they may be crammed. After hurricane Katrina, shelters did not have enough available sanitary products, the lack of these basic hygienic necessities can result in humiliation, social isolation, inability to work properly, and low-esteem; it all adds up to being incredibly unhygienic. Using sanitary pads may lead to irritation, and prolonged tampon use may lead to toxic shock syndrome, which could even cause death.


Bangladesh’s cyclone, which hit in 1991, is another example of how women are affected more than men during natural disasters. 126 000 out of 140 000 deaths were women, which equates to about 90%. The death rate of people aged between 22-44 years was 71 per 1000, while for men it was 15 per 1000. Reasons for this include the fact that more women were homebound, looking after children and valuables. Many women die even after a warning is issued because they wait for their relatives to return home to accompany them safely. This links back to assaults against women increasing dramatically around natural disasters. Other factors such as the Sari (traditional clothing), restricted their movement and made them vulnerable to tidal surge, women are generally also less well-nourished and so, less physically able to survive these situations as compared to men. Studies in India show that women tend to have much lower access to critical information on weather alerts, this affecting their capacity to respond fast enough. Bangladesh is prone to many floods and women are often the last to receive assistance, they may also not receive supplies because they are pushed away by some men in the rush to get them. Women who have little or “inappropriate” clothing are prohibited from entering public areas to access medical or any sort of aid and it can also stop women from leaving temporary shelters in search of help. However, there are also cases of more men dying in floods; this occurs most often in Latin American countries where, culturally, due to “machismo”, exaggerated masculine behavior, more men died in attempts to rescue others and return to the flood because of the ideology of being a hero.

Socio-economic power

According to the BBC, women-led households are often the most affected by the aftermath of natural disasters, women finding it harder to find work and hence making income to support their family an issue. After Hurricane Katrina, African-American women were affected the most, and found it the hardest to sustain their families. Women are also the most likely to end up in poverty due to a lot of them having less socio-economic power compared to men. In extreme cases, this can even result in women being killed. Another study by the WHO, which spanned over 20 years, recorded that catastrophic events lowered women’s life expectancy more than men’s. In countries where women had less socio-economic power, more were killed at younger ages. In countries where women had greater socio-economic power, the likeliness of being killed was significantly reduced.

Indirect Consequences

An example is how rising temperatures increases the transmission of malaria in some countries, this already causing 300 million illnesses and nearly 1 million people annually (WHO 2008). Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria-carrying mosquitos as they as twice as “appealing” as non-pregnant women. This is because they have heavier breathing and exhale twice as much, alerting mosquitos of a nearby “host”, other factors such as increased nightly activity (like going to the bathroom more times at night) make them more exposed, especially if their lavatory is located outside of their housing.

Water Scarcity and Gender

In rural areas such as Central Africa, because 90% of Lake Chad has disappeared, this particularly put indigenous groups at risk. Women are often the ones who have to fetch for water for their communities while the men are away. Since the lake’s shore-line receded, women had to walk much further lengths to collect water. Due to water scarcity, women often have no choice than to collect water from contaminated sources, and this leads to a rise of water-related diseases, which in developing countries represents the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5. Water scarcity does not solely affect rural areas, the BBC states that by 2025, so in just 6 years, Beijing, Cairo, Moscow, Istanbul, Miami and London will have little to no water left. Water wars will most likely happen, and according to UN secretary generals, water will be more valuable than oil.

Low Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs)

Extreme weather events are already devastating communities. The Environmental Justice Foundation states that in 2016, ‘weather-related sudden-onset hazards’, such as cyclones and floods, displaced around 23.5 million people. This affects many areas across the globe because of drought, landslides, cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, and wild-fires to name just a few. Besides countries in war, LEDCs also face harsher consequences of all of these disasters. In Bangladesh, because of their low elevation, high population density and inadequate infrastructure, up to 18 million people may have to move due to rising sea levels. In 2016 there were four enormous cyclones (time of torrential rain in Asia) whereas statistically there only used to be 1 on an annual basis. The Maldives has been in a current state of climate crisis for 10 years due to rising sea levels, even going as far as to consider closing tourism similarly to the Galapagos Islands due to tourism pollution. Drought in developing countries brings health hazards, because of the reduced potable water and water available for hygiene. Drought can disproportionately increase suicide rates among male farmers because of their inability to provide for their families. Moreover, the WHO found that many households are exposed to unventilated areas of biomass being burnt, this exposure causing approximately 2 million deaths a year, mainly of women and children in the poorest communities in the world.

The Elderly

Unlike in Europe, in the USA, elderly men tend to be more at risk than women in heat-waves, this vulnerability probably due to the level of social isolation among elderly men (Klinenberg, 2002). Due to climate change increasing extreme weather conditions, this increases risk amongst people over 60 to be more vulnerable to illnesses and eventually leads to more deaths. Extreme heat exposure can specifically affect people with heart failure, diabetes and other health conditions. NASA scientists concluded that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, and that it was due to human activity interfering with climate change patterns and the dissolving ozone layer. Elders might not always have sufficient heating, or are more prone to hazards in heavy winter. The 2019 winter was named the coldest year for USA history. This also affects the 30% of Americans that are homeless, a large percentage of which being LGBTQ+ individuals forced out of shelters due to overcrowding.

Indigenous People

Recently, indigenous groups have been gaining more attention for protesting against their lands being taken away, and against corporations which pollute their environment and water sources. Their dependence and close relationship with the environment and its resources makes indigenous people vulnerable to being affected first. These effects increase their economic and political marginalisation even further, as well as worsen discrimination and increase unemployment.

The people in Africa's Kalahari desert are forced to live around government water reserves, depending on government support for their survival because of rising temperatures, increased wind-speeds resulting in loss of vegetation and livestock. Indigenous people are the ones who contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions and they play a crucial and active role in the ecosystems well-being, yet they are the among the first being affected. Climate change is an issue which is affecting all of us. As said in the beginning, it can’t have an agenda; it doesn't target one group of people over another, however, this doesn’t imply that everyone is affected equally. As shown throughout, climate change has had a larger scale impact on the groups which have less of a voice. This is a global issue, one that unites every single one of us. It is a battle that can't be won individually and requires a united front. We have been ignorant enough not to acknowledge our contribution to this daunting problem, but it is time to make a system change, and not climate change.

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