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Environmental stress on women

January 2020: Women's capacity to adapt to climate change across Asia and Africa is negatively impacted by current adaptation strategies, leading to reduced health and wellbeing. The study calls for investments into equitable adaptive capacity building for men and women to prepare communities for safer and more effective future migration induced by climate change.


A recent study finds that women are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, particularly in Africa and Asia. Environmental stress – triggered by climate change – may negatively impact women's ability to make free choices. The study suggests that conditions such as male migration and women's poor working conditions combined with institutional failure and poverty reduces women's ability to make strategic decisions and contribute to their climate-change adaptation responses. Primary work for women in Asia and Africa includes agriculture, livestock pastoralism, fishing, wage labour, and petty trade, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental risk such as droughts, floods, land erosion, and extreme weather. These conditions exacerbate vulnerability through their access to resources, divisions of work, and cultural norms around mobility and decision-making, which determine people's ability to adapt to climate change.

Implication and Opportunities

The findings suggest that male migration as an adaption strategy disadvantages woman and their ability to adapt, particularly women that are young, less educated and from poorer economic backgrounds. It raises concerns about sustainable and equitable adaptation in climate sensitive regions. The study highlights that current strategies incentivise women to work longer hours, in poorer conditions, for lower wages, which negatively impacts their health and nutrition. The paper calls for policy interventions and investments that deliver effective social protection for women such as the universal public distribution system for cereals in India, guaranteed pensions, or social grants in Namibia. These efforts should also aim to strengthen collective action at the community level for women to strengthen women's resilience as proposed in various multilateral agreements.


The study focuses on women in Asia and Africa and its results should be seen within its geographical context. More research will be needed to investigate women's adaptive capacity in other regions and contexts.


Rao, N., Mishra, A., Prakash, A., Singh, C., Qaisrani, A., Poonacha, P., … Bedelian, C. (2019). A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa. Nature Climate Change.

Outlook India. (2019). Environmental stress hits women the hardest. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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