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Extreme heat inflicts greater burdens on women, study shows

A new report uncovers the overlooked physical and economic strain that rising temperatures inflict upon women around the world.

A groundbreaking report has revealed the disproportionate physical and financial toll that extreme heat, exacerbated by climate change, inflicts upon women.

The study, spanning India, Nigeria, and the United States, concluded that escalating temperatures extract a yearly cost of $120 billion from women in these countries, primarily due to lost work hours.

The analysis exposes how the economic burden of heat is amplified when the unpaid domestic work undertaken by women is taken into account.

Women endure a 260% increase in financial losses due to heat, compared to a 76% rise for men. This phenomenon intensifies the existing gender disparities, the report asserts.

These repercussions extend beyond mere financial terms, impacting family health, income, and women’s educational opportunities.

However, such effects are typically overlooked in economic data and commonly bypassed by policymakers, the report notes.

“We know that communities with women doing as well as men, they all do better. And so this [report] puts some hard numbers on what those inequalities are and how climate-driven heat is exacerbating them,” Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which penned the report, stated.

“Overall what it tells us is that extreme heat is pushing women in poverty further into poverty and pulling women that have come out of poverty back into it.”

The report is published amidst soaring global temperatures and international efforts to devise suitable responses.

Women worldwide continue to grapple with lower earnings compared to men, along with myriad barriers to economic parity. A significant number of women in lower-income nations work in informal sectors, bereft of fundamental labour protections such as fair pay, paid sick leave, and health insurance. These women also tend to undertake the majority of domestic tasks, which frequently expose them to high temperatures.

The report indicates that, despite women generally working outdoors less frequently than men, only 4 percent of women’s working hours in Nigeria and a mere 9 percent in India occur in air-conditioned environments.

Increased temperatures exacerbate the physical strain of tasks, leading to headaches, fatigue, impaired mobility, and reduced concentration. Women working outdoors may experience skin rashes, urinary tract infections, or miscarriages. Extreme heat prolongs women’s workdays by 90 minutes in India and by 150 minutes in Nigeria.

Productivity losses arising from the heat curtail women’s earnings by restricting their time for paid work, thereby hindering their economic progression. The brunt of climate impacts is borne by poorer and more marginalised women.

In India, nearly one-fifth of women’s paid working hours are forfeited to heat, and in Nigeria, women lose almost five hours of paid work each week. Rising heat also depresses the wages of many women in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and other services.

The report warns that climate change is poised to diminish productivity as heatwaves multiply.

“Without action to reduce emissions or adapt to climate impacts, the average daily hours lost to heat are set to increase by 30 percent by 2050,” it predicted.

Such losses impair a country’s overall economic growth, amounting to an annual cost of approximately $16.8 billion in the US, $37 billion in Nigeria, and $67 billion in India. They may also marginalise women economically further, aggravating existing inequalities, such as heightened health risks compared to men.

Women, who customarily care for family members suffering from heat-related illnesses, thus shoulder a double burden.

“The unequal division of domestic and care labour must be addressed to close the global gender gap,” states the report.