Impacts of Climate Change on Women’s Health

Mar 5, 2020 | News

It is an undeniable fact that climate change is impacting us all. Erin Myers of the Metis National Council spoke at the Women of the Metis Nation’s National Forum on the specific impacts that climate change is having on women and some steps we can all take.

There are three major areas where the effects of climate change have specific impacts on women: heat, food security, and extreme events. Socio-economic factors also impact vulnerability and the population of Indigenous women living in poverty is disproportionately large, making this an especially important topic for Indigenous communities to consider.

HEAT: Increased temperatures and longer periods of intense heat place pregnant women at risk from a variety of health complications for themselves and their babies. Research has found that hyperthermia, or abnormally high body temperature, in early pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects. Women’s bodies undergo a lot of changes in pregnancy, including changes in the way their bodies handle fluids and control their temperature. As a result, they may become dehydrated more easily

FOOD SECURITY: Traditionally, women’s role is to support their families with food. When we consider activities such as berry picking, we have seen climate change drive blueberry harvests further north, removing access to traditional food sources. Droughts in other areas lead to increased food costs, which places stress on our women. Furthermore, invasive species are taking over from native fauna and animal migration patterns are changing, which means people are losing their traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

EXTREME EVENTS: In Canada, we see extreme events such as fire, flooding, and tornados with increasing frequency. The standard response to many of these threats is to evacuate the threatened population, often to urban centres. The mental health impacts of evacuation can be more severe on women than men. Women instinctively take on caregiver roles, often volunteering in the kitchens, looking out for Elders, and
caring for their own children and perhaps those of others too. This places an increased burden on an already vulnerable population. In an evacuation context, we also cannot ignore the inherent safety risks to young women and girls.

We should not underestimate the mental health impacts of climate change. When we lose land that is familiar to us and part of our story, we grieve for it. In the aftermath of the Slave Lake fire and Hurricane Katrina there were alarming increases in suicides and the prescription of antidepressants and anxiety drugs.

Women are natural leaders and problem solvers who successfully tackle challenges daily. Women have the
knowledge and expertise to tackle climate change and can use their skills as natural instinctive caregivers to address this important issue. It is our responsibility as individuals to keep having the conversation and working together. We don’t have a choice anymore; we cannot afford debate and to make it political. From eliminating single use plastics in your home to starting a community vegetable garden, every action counts. Look at the little things you can do in your daily life and for opportunities to make changes in your community so that we leave a brighter future for the generations to come.