Vulnerability of Women to climate change health threat in Zimbabwe


By Tinashe Masimbe

Vulnerability involves a combination of exposure and sensitivity to risk,and the inability to cope or adapt to Climate change, everyone will be affected by these changes, but not equally (Care, 2010). “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. It needs a shared responsibility to address it.

Failure to act will leave the environments even more hazardous to millions of women, children and their families (UNICEF UK, 2010).

According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): “Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to climate change. Among the risks the continent faces are reductions in food security and agricultural productivity, particularly regarding subsistence agriculture, increased water stress and, as a result of these and the potential for increased exposure to disease and other health risks, increased risks to human health” (Parry et al 2007).

Zimbabwe is a nation which depends heavily on agriculture and mostly women are involved in farming on small or large scale. The country Zimbabwe is facing recurring series of droughts and floods. Corn production fell to 800,000 metric tons in 2013.

Women are one of the most vulnerable groups to climate in the Zimbabwean communities.Studies have shown that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of severe weather events and climate change because of cultural norms and the inequitable distribution of roles, resources,and power.

“International climate-change agreements and national policies are more likely to succeed in the long run if they take into account population dynamics, the relations between sexes,and women’s well-being and access to services and opportunities” (UNFPA ,2009).

What makes women one of the most vulnerable group

  • Lack of Education

Women are more vulnerable because they have less access to education and information that would allow them to manage climate related risks to agriculture, health and livestock.(WHO, 2011).Women also constitute the majority of the world’s population living in poverty and have lower incomes.

  • Household Roles

Women are mothers and caregivers and are expected to engage in these roles. Climate change has a significant impact on securing household water, food, and fuel – activities that are usually the responsibility of women. In times of drought, women must walk farther and spend more of their time collecting water and fuel. Girls may have to drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks.

  • Women do not have a voice in ‘community politics’

In rural communities women are deprived of having a voice when it comes to decision making power, making it a constraint to women’s ability to adapt to climate change. According to Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plümper 2007, “Women are underrepresented in community politics, and thus have little influence over community strategies for adapting.”

  • Health status

According to UNICEF ESARO 2007 Report shows presence of pockets of acute malnutrition more than half of all new 7 infections occur among young people, especially girls. As a result, life expectancy has dropped from 61 years during the early 1990s to 34 years.

  • Living conditions and child bearing

In early 2014 incessant heavy rains pounded across the country causing unprecedented flooding, hailstorms and landslides in Tokwe-Mukosi, Masvingo province, which the government declared a natural disaster. Reproductive health and family planning are largely absent from strategies for adapting to climate change. Women, particularly, are set to get the rougher end of the stick, with grave consequences being exacted on maternal and reproductive health as well as families.

How can women bring change?

Women need to be at the centre of policy responses (Agarwal, 2000). Research from CARE shows that women are more likely to change strategies in response to new information, and make decisions that minimize risk. Women also need a voice in community politics. All these qualities suggest that when women are empowered, they can be extremely effective agents of adaptation to climate change.


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