Environmental crisis and gender: the effects of climate change on women’s gynecological health
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The rapid climate change observed over the past decade has adversely affected our environment as well as our bodily systems. However, one thing that often goes unnoticed is how disproportionate it has affected women and gender minorities more than men all over the world.
This is due to an increased state of risks and vulnerabilities to which women are exposed, which, compared to men, are much greater in degree as well as frequency. Apart from the social, cultural and economic vulnerabilities that are further compounded due to an ever-deteriorating climate system, the most significant degradation that women face is that of their physical health.
It must be recognized that health is a factor that troubles women much more than men, given the fact that they experience periodic menstruation and pregnancy. Gynecological issues have therefore always been studied when it comes to adversities faced by women.
Climate crisis, socio-cultural and economic vulnerabilities of women
More of the world’s poor are women. With negligible, if any, access to basic education, human rights, and health care, women’s day-to-day problems are barely acknowledged with the intention of improving.
In addition, they depend on local natural resources for their daily life. A degrading environment only adds to their degrading health factors which consequently affect their gynecological system and are transmitted to the babies they carry.
It has in fact been found that most women in rural areas suffer from ‘double burden‘ to be hardworking workers outside the home, as well as being devoted housewives and daughters within the home. With climate change leading to droughts and drying up of water resources, these women have to travel great distances to collect the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.
Dwindling sources of drinking water are becoming an aggravating problem for women in most of these places. Labor-intensive tasks are becoming increasingly difficult and time-consuming for women, which profoundly affects their overall health.
Sea level rise, miscarriages and pregnancy complications
With an increase in the melting of the ice sheets, there are consequent increases in temperatures. This increases the surrounding atmospheric pressure which inversely affects the surrounding sea level. Several studies find that women living near sea and river coasts experience complicated pregnancies and more miscarriages than women living in the plains. This is due to rising sea levels, increased salt levels in fresh water, and drinking water resources.
Scientists have studied pregnant women on the coastal plains and concluded that these women are prone to miscarriage 1.3 times more than those living inland. According to them, this is mainly due to the salt in the water that these women consume daily. This is of course not their fault, as the root of the problem lies in global warming and rapidly rising sea levels. Salt water flows into freshwater streams, river channels and underground water supplies, contaminating not only the water but also the surrounding soil.
This water full of unwanted salt is then drawn via wells, tube wells, etc., in the villages. Sometimes the water even becomes reddish in some remote places due to oversaturation with salt in it. Without any other alternative, this same water is used for cooking, washing clothes, bathing and doing other activities of life.
UK health campaigns have also warned of the dangerous consequences of excessive salt intake. This is seen as causing hypertension and stroke in people in general, and obstetric problems like preeclampsia and miscarriage in pregnant women in particular.
Bangladesh is an example that has long been a victim of this condition. As a low-lying floodplain, formerly affected by the tsunami, the country is mainly home to villages that are contaminated with excess salt in their soil and water. This should not be taken as exclusive as most places where the sea level rises are said to face the same result. The most tragic aspect of this problem remains that women living in these areas accept their fate because they are aware that the effects of global warming will only worsen.
Read also : Mainstreaming Gender Vulnerabilities to Climate Change in India’s Nationally Determined Contributions
Hot weather and its effects on menstrual cycles and overall women’s health
Apart from several other factors, rising temperatures are a major cause behind the development of irregularities in women’s menstrual cycles. Hot weather triggers stress, fatigue, anxiety, acne and various other problems. These in turn affect women’s menstrual cycles, causing complications.
The heat waves seen in the recent past have been terribly harmful to women regarding their gynecological health. Summers in general are also much more uncomfortable for women because many comments Has proved. Women suffer more from yeast infections and UTIs (urinary tract infections) in hot summers. Eating habits that keep changing with temperatures also impact periods, causing them to come early with heavy bleeding.
Additionally, seasonal variations that occur during incoming hot summers have been shown to increase the risk of miscarriages in pregnant women. High temperatures are undoubtedly a contributing factor to many pregnancy complications and losses.
Impact of food insecurity on women due to the climate crisis
Rapid global climate change has resulted in climate-related food insecurities such as food supply instability, less accessibility to needed food resources, and various food-borne diseases. These have prevented women from getting the proper nutrients they need to grow and develop. As a result, countless women fall victim to malnutrition and anemia during the vital stages of childbirth and menstruation.
This again affects women who are socio-culturally less equipped. A PMC study on this issue mentions that women’s livelihoods are therefore at risk due to climate-related crop failures, as this threatens to further exacerbate their poverty and poor health outcomes. Not only these, the effects of an undernourished mother are also transferred to their children. Lack of vital food and water resources is therefore a major factor in women’s fertility problems.
What can be done?
The first and main step in improving these gendered health problems due to climate change is to recognize the disproportionality. Researchers are still finding more links between the degrading gynecological health of women and changing climatic parameters, all over the world.
Health professionals, as well as policy makers, should mitigate the consequences of rising global temperatures on pregnant women by specifically addressing the intersection between gender and the environmental crisis. In addition, more women and individuals from gender minorities should be included in political and decision-making processes. This will increase general awareness and meet better standards for climate change adaptation policies.
Read also : Climate change: We need to stop blaming population growth
Featured Image Source: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism India