“With our collective efforts, the belief has increased that for the welfare of the world, it is necessary to protect everyone’s interest,” the prime minister of India evoked the sentiment at COP28 in Dubai. It is widely believed that climate change must be gender neutral. However, as per UNDP, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster.

Due to their societal roles, responsibilities, and cultural norms, women are more likely to be at risk from the effects of climatic disasters in situations of impoverishment. In fact, UN Women’s Report 2020 on ‘Gender Dimensions of Climate Change’ emphasises that women are disproportionately affected by climate change due to their roles in resource management and household responsibilities.

For women, especially in rural India, agriculture is the primary source of income and climatic changes affect their livelihoods, health, safety, and security. “Low-income women in India often rely on agriculture and informal sectors for their livelihoods. Poor women are invariably the resource managers in their families which means that they travel distances sometimes to collect the firewood and water, and on top of that also manage the water consumption at their homes,” Kalpana Ajayan, regional head South Asia, Women’s World Banking, a global organisation committed to women's economic empowerment, tells Fortune India.

Climate change introduces uncertainties such as erratic weather patterns, extreme temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall. Evidently, these factors pose a threat to crop yields, affecting agricultural productivity and subsequently impacting the income of women engaged in farming activities.

Several studies also suggest that between 1901 and 2018, the average annual temperature over India rose by nearly 0.7˚ Celsius while increasing the prevalence of heat waves. Given the cultural norms, risks to women are also higher due to exposure to indoor air pollution caused by burning of biomass in homes for cooking & heating, tied with lack of awareness. The way our society is formulated further exacerbates the burden of domestic unpaid work carried by low-income women and they are also disproportionately affected by the health risks posed by the climatic factors.

Gender lens in financial services

The poignant reality is that it is the economically vulnerable and weak which are affected by the implications of climate change. Alarm bells need to be sounded for equity to be deeply woven into climate crisis concerns.

“Women with access to financial services are better equipped to deal with the shocks related to climate risks and to build their resilience, alongside the resilience of their families and their communities,” says Ajayan.

She suggests that agricultural loans and insurance, weather-related and flood insurance, and G2P (government-to-person) payments for climate-related relief will act as pillars of a financial support ecosystem, and gender-disaggregated data will help spotlight gaps here.

On the other hand, she says that by embedding climate risk preparedness into their core business operations, FSPs can reduce their risks to the impact of climate change, better respond to market needs, and take advantage of new opportunities to increase the financial inclusion of low-income women.

Furthermore, access to credit could potentially encourage women to invest in resilient agricultural practices, embrace climate-smart technologies, or diversify their livelihoods, thereby mitigating their vulnerability to climate risks.

According to a report by ASSOCHAM in collaboration with the Ministry of Women & Child Development, empowering women would translate into a 20-30% rise in agricultural yields in India if they were to be provided with the same access to resources as men.

“India’s Digital Public Infrastructure has the potential to be the transformative force in augmenting women’s access to financial services, particularly in underserved areas,” Ajayan says.

Although quantifying the financial impact on women in India is largely exacting due to the lack of gender-disaggregated data, global studies indicate that the effects of climate change could slash global GDP by 11-14% by 2050, with South and Southeast Asia facing the most significant ramifications. Projections suggest that by 2050, climate change might force an additional 158 million women and girls into poverty, with 236 million confronting food insecurity.

"Women’s financial empowerment and climate resilience present a momentous opportunity, and this necessitates gender transformative interventions that tackle the root causes of women’s issues," the regional head notes.

In a country like India which has bullish targets on sustainability and where more than 65% of the agricultural workforce is made up of women, realising the repercussions and investing in women’s financial inclusion is not just a response to climate change, it is a proactive strategy for sustainable development.

Follow us on Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.