The Arctic’s central role in the global climate system amplifies gender inequalities. In the North American Arctic, Indigenous women and girls comprise 70-90% of trafficking victims and are often left to face challenges securing food, water and fuel. Men face a disproportionally high suicide rate, stemming in part from a loss of identity due to climate change. Climate-driven disruption of gender roles parallels and increase in gender-based violence and inequitable mortality rates.
The climate crisis is not “gender neutral.” Across the world, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources. In many regions, women bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel.
Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change, which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to their livelihoods, health, and safety. Arctic change will amplify current gender impacts because of its central role in the global climate system.
Women traditionally also care for family members, most notably elderly relatives and children, which increases their exposure to rapid-onset extreme weather such as floods and tropical cyclones. When women wear traditional clothing, such as saris and burqas, their mobility is further limited, hampering evacuation from disasters like floods. In terms of mortality, elderly women are particularly vulnerable to heatwaves, with mortality rates reaching twice that of elderly males (Steen et al., 2018). This is critical as, by 2100, 99 percent of all weather-related fatalities will be linked to heatwaves (Forzieri et al., 2017).
Additionally, displacement and conflict due to extreme weather and heat stress often contribute to spikes in gender-based violence. In the year after Hurricane Katrina (2006), gender-based violence among internally displaced people in the state of Mississippi increased from 4.6 to 16.3 per 100,000 population per day – and remained above-baseline at 10.1 in 2007. Increased mutilation of female genitals occurred during drought in Kenya (Esho et al., 2021).
Bold climate action is needed to curb gender inequality and vulnerabilities throughout the Arctic. In the Canadian and US Arctic, 70-90 percent of trafficking victims are Indigenous women and girls (Sweet, 2014). Loss of identity and self-esteem, exacerbated by climate change-induced disruption of traditional roles, are found to contribute to alcoholism and higher suicide rates among men, along with spikes in violence against women and children, human trafficking, and prostitution.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.