Women in a Changing Climate

The social positioning of women as caregivers is known to add increased psychological stress during extreme weather events. 

Feb 07, 2020   •   Climate Resilience , Research

Gender and Climate Change

Climate change is creating extreme and unpredictable weather patterns across the globe. While some regions are more affected than others, researchers have found universally that women are more at-risk than men from the adverse effects of a changing climate. What does this mean for women’s mental health? And how might women in the Greater Golden Horseshoe be affected?

Mental Health Impacts on Women

Research suggests that people who identify as women experience the mental health impacts of climate change 60% more than those who identify as men.1 Researchers investigating the health effects of extreme heat events throughout nine neighbourhoods in Quebec found that out of a sample of 3,485 residents, nearly 18% suffered mental health impacts—the majority of whom were women with lower socioeconomic status or who had pre-existing health conditions.2

1. Stephen Starr, “Mental toll of climate change hits women 60% more,” OZY, (July 25, 2019).
2. Diane Belanger, Pierre Gosselin, Pierre Valois, Belkacem Abdous, “Perceived adverse health effects of heat and their determinants in deprived neighbourhoods,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, (2014).

Caregivers, like nurses or hospice workers, face additional risk of mental health outcomes such as compassion fatigue (or ‘burn-out’) because of the psychological strain of taking care of people with demanding needs, while overlooking their own wellbeing. Caregiving roles also tend to be underpaid and undervalued which compounds the aformentioned stressors.

Race and culture intersect with gender to add additional layers of risk. In Canada, Indigenous women, for example, are on the front lines of climate change, facing displacement from their traditional territory due to environmental changes, such as melting permafrost in the North.

The social positioning of women as caregivers is known to add increased psychological stress during extreme weather events. 


Women as Climate Action Leaders

Women typically take on leadership roles in driving climate change mitigation and adaptation action around the globe. Noting this, the Government of Canada adopted the Gender Action Plan at the United Nations Climate Change Convention - COP23. The Plan empowers women to lead actions (such as climate negotiations), while building awareness about the disproportionate impact of climate change on women.

Addressing the Risks

The Greenbelt Foundation is committed to supporting ongoing research into the impacts of climate change on Ontarians. This research is particularly important for broadening public understanding of how climate change affects specific groups in society. Research demonstrates that at-risk groups, such as certain demographics of women, particularly women in caregiving roles, require additional pyschosocial support, including financial and physical access to mental health care. Some programs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe geared to supporting women affected by climate change include:

  • Good Grief Network is a digital platform by women for women that provides a 10-step program to help users navigate the mental health consequences of climate change.
  • Transition Towns are community groups that address peak oil, climate change, and environmental degradation throughout Canada and host ‘heart and soul’ gatherings that explore social and emotional responses to a changing climate.
  • The International Transformational Resilience Coalition provides webinars and resources to help people explore climate trauma, while providing skills-training that enhances wellbeing for those affected by climate change.
  • The Native Women’s Association of Canada engages in national and international climate change discussions with the aim of advocating for the rights and interests of Indigenous women.
  • The Ontario Indigenous Women’s Water Commission promotes Indigenous women as caretakers of water by engaging in traditional practices, participating in education and planning on water issues, and facilitating networking opportunities.

Download or print the 2 page PDF of 
Women in a Changing Climate

See the full reports here: Mental Health in a Changing Climate