Gender-based Violence and Climate Change

Across the globe, research shows the impacts of climate change can increase the risk of violence against women

There is a body of research that clearly illustrates the intersection between climate change, livelihoods, and gender-based violence.

Climate change and gender. What’s the relation?

The impacts of climate change are already being experienced by each person around the world. The experience of hardships such as lower earnings and food insecurity varies, like most things, for different gender groups.

The effects of climate change can create circumstances where inequalities associated with socially constructed gender roles can be made worse. This is a wide and complex topic - this short article will focus on research illustrating how the impacts of climate change specifically can exacerbate the risk of violence against women.

Violence against women and long-term effects of climate change

Changing weather patterns, heavier rainfalls, prolonged droughts, higher temperatures, increased crop failure, livestock loss and increasing food insecurity can be particularly strenuous for rural agricultural communities across the world.

Research by the United Nations Development Program conducted a study on two rural communities in Uganda in 2019 that had been affected by climate change. In terms of increase violence against women, the following was found.

  • In periods of prolonged drought, there is increased vulnerability as women and young women make more frequent and longer journeys to obtain food or water.

  • Young women who spend more time fetching water have fewer days in school and may even drop out.

  • Families may marry off their daughters to better cope with food scarcity.

  • For families with men as sole providers, men may leave home to seek a living elsewhere, leaving women and children to fend for themselves, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.


  • Poor harvests, livestock loss, and impacts on livelihoods puts pressure on men’s traditional role as providers. This can give rise to mental health issues, increase instances of alcohol abuse, and the assertion of masculinity through violence.

Violence against women after extreme weather events

Extreme weather events often mean people must evacuate their home areas, sometimes for long periods of time. However, decision-making regarding when and where to evacuate sometimes excludes women, with a direct bearing on women’s safety during and after a disaster. Often shelters may lack facilities for women and/or place them at risk for assault. Instances where violence against women has been recorded to increase after extreme weather events in Bangladesh[1] and Vietnam[2].

In the Global North research is also showing increases in gender-based violence after disasters. For example, a study examining domestic violence after Hurricane Katrina in the US, found psychological abuse of women increased by 35%, and 17% for men in the six months after the storm. Physical abuse of women increased by 98% in the same period[3]. Studies have shown similar instances after floods in the US[4] and New Zealand[5], and after bushfires in Australia (which linked the increase in violence to the burdens placed on men by traditional masculinities in the face of loss of livelihoods)[6].

What can be done?

  • Gender equality, especially in leadership roles, needs to become more mainstream in international climate institutions, including big banks in charge of climate finance.
  • Further research is needed to highlight areas where policies are failing to provide personal safety for women.
  • Engagement with men and women in communities to; increase understanding of gender-based violence and alternatives to it in relationships, build gender-equitable attitudes, practices, and norms, and dismantle harmful masculinities and gender norms.
  • Provide care for GBV survivors.

Two pieces of research this article utilised, and we recommend reading for further detail and analysis.

1: Alston M (2015) Women and Climate Change in Bangladesh (Routledge, New York), and Nasreen M (2008) Violence against women during flood and post-flood situations in Bangladesh (ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka).
2: United Nations, Oxfam International (2009) Responding to climate change in Viet Nam: opportunities for improving gender equality.
3: Schumacher JA, et al. (2010) Intimate partner violence and Hurricane Katrina: predictors and associated mental health outcomes. Violence Vict 25(5):588–603.
4: Fothergill A (2008) Domestic violence after disaster: voices from the 1997 Grand Forks Flood. Women and Disasters: From Theory to Practice, eds Phillips BD, Morrow BH (International Research Committee on Disasters, 131-154).
5: Houghton R (2009) “Everything became a struggle, absolute struggle”: post-flood increases in domestic violence in New Zealand. Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives (SAGE Publications, New Delhi), pp 99–111.
6: Carrington K, McIntosh A, Hogg R, Scott J (2013) Rural masculinities and the internalisation of violence in agricultural communities. Int J Rural Criminol 2(1):3–24, and, Whittenbury K (2013) Climate change, women’s health, wellbeing and experiences of gender based violence in Australia. Research, Action and Policy: Addressing the Gendered Impacts of Climate Change, eds Alston M, Whittenbury K (Springer, New York), pp 207–221.