Kelly Austin argues that women are impacted disproportionately by disasters caused by climate change.

Among the bad news related to the ill effects of climate change is that women are impacted disproportionately by the resulting disasters. Women are more likely to experience poverty, poorer health outcomes and increased vulnerability to sexual violence due to climate-related disaster events, such as floods, storms and drought.

These facts are confirmed by new research that aims to quantitatively assess the causes of suffering from disasters in less-developed nations with a specific emphasis on gender relations. The research also reveals some good news: Women who are economically empowered have a disproportionately positive impact on disaster outcomes—reducing the overall number of people affected.  

Kelly F. Austin, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh, and Laura A. McKinney, of Tulane University, looked at data from 85 less-developed nations for their study, the results of which have been published in an article in Social Forces.”

Austin and McKinney found that advancing the economic status of women reduces the number of people directly affected by disasters, as economically empowered women can better prepare for and respond to disasters. This improved status also has the indirect benefit of enhancing health resources in the community, thus helping to reduce harm and prevent deaths.

The authors point out that the same report also acknowledges that women are underrepresented in all levels of the decision-making process on efforts to combat climate change and that this is limiting.

“Public policies and initiatives to address climate change effects,” the researchers wrote, “would similarly benefit by recognizing women as agents of harm reduction and advocates of community development.”

The results of their research suggest a need to shift from post-disaster response to preparedness before a disaster strikes, they note.

Preparedness makes good economic sense, the authors say. Reports indicate that for every dollar spent on basic preparation, including provisions for health infrastructure like hospitals and clean water facilities, $7 in disaster aid and recovery is prevented.