By Tahseen Jafry

AT Glasgow Caledonian University, we have found evidence that climate change is making gender-based violence and mental-health problems worse for the most vulnerable women in Malawi.

I am the director of the University’s Mary Robinson Centre for Climate Justice and we carried out an in-depth six-month study in Malawi speaking to women who have been hit hardest by climate change.

Our study found that as many as 86 per cent of the women surveyed admitted their mental health and wellbeing had been affected by climate change, compared to just 15% saying the same about their physical health.

Women in climate-hit countries are carrying a disproportionate burden of the work. They are walking longer and further to find water, tending to crops that are failing due to lack of rainfall, feeding the family, looking after children and the elderly. The majority of those interviewed said that adverse weather had intensified, leaving them emotionally and psychologically impacted. Men are generally more detached from these household matters, but their frustration at the changes in the climate, and how it is manifesting, seems to be taken out on the women. We are beginning to see fundamental changes in human behaviour as a result of climate change. This was just a small study and much more needs to be done to understand this better.

But this research was important in ensuring that solutions to the impacts of climate change are people-centred, in that they do not ignore what vulnerable groups are personally experiencing.

The aim of the study was to gather evidence, find solutions with a range of stakeholders, and make recommendations to protect women from the mental-health impacts of climate change, while also addressing gender-based violence and supporting progressive social change at a national and local level.

We spoke to 213 local women. More than 86% said their mental health and wellbeing had been affected by the changes in weather. The biggest worry was for their children and the effects climate-induced food insecurity can have on them, both in the short and long term.

Twenty-four women also disclosed they had been victims of physical abuse, while 44 women specifically highlighted incidents of physical abuse, saying frequently that “husbands beat their wives” when were asked about gender-based violence occurring in their community.

These emotional testimonies will now help decision-makers in Malawi identify, design and develop community-led solutions to adapting to climate-change that minimise the risk on women’s mental health and deal with gender-based violence for vulnerable groups.

Globally, there is now great impetus to look at these issues and to strengthen the resolution that was announced by the UN General Assembly in July 2022, whereby they declared access to clean and healthy environment a universal human right. I hope our research can play a vital role in underpinning the work that is required to protect those on the front line of the climate crisis.

Professor Tahseen Jafry, Director of the Mary Robinson Centre for Climate Justice