PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago: The domino effect is clear: Climate change causes extreme dry weather in Trinidad and Tobago, which forces women to expend more time and energy on the physically demanding task of collecting water. 

For pregnant women, this means a higher risk of adverse birth outcomes and miscarriage. “Once the water supply is compromised, so is reproductive health,” environmental consultant Akilah Jaramogi told UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, in 2022.

And this is just one example of how climate change and sexual and reproductive health are linked: Around the world, the climate crisis is making the world as women and girls know it worse, with rising temperatures endangering maternal health, floods jeopardizing access to services and disasters elevating risks of gender-based violence. 

Discussing how to address and mitigate these challenges and reach women and girls with solutions is on the agenda for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), running from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai.

"The climate crisis is having profound impacts on women and girls around the world. Climate-driven disasters are displacing them from their homes, putting family planning clinics, maternal healthcare and safe spaces out of reach,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem in a statement. “Without urgent measures, climate change will set back the clock even further on achieving gender equality.” 


Intersecting injustices

It’s no secret that climate change widens cracks already present in society, disproportionately harming those living on its margins.

For this reason, in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, the climate crisis has particularly severe impacts for people of African descent, and especially women and girls. 

About one in four of the region’s total population identify as Afrodescendent.

Yet research shows that members of this community are disproportionately affected by chronic poverty and negative health outcomes, including for maternal health. Experts have identified the legacies of slavery and colonialism as drivers behind these inequalities. 

In Trinidad and Tobago, climate change threatens to make this situation worse. “The impact is such that the most economically vulnerable will feel climate-related shifts most harshly,” said Ms. Jaramogi, who leads the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Inconsistent rainfall, stronger winds and hotter temperatures make us prone to bush and forest fires during the dry season; we see an increase in respiratory illnesses for young children due to the smoke and Saharan dust. 

“The challenge in communities like ours is that if children are required to stay home very often, so are mothers, which results in them losing out on income earning and career development opportunities.”

But much more than money is at stake with women sometimes forced to fight the fires on their own. “The increased frequency and intensity of the fires has required more women to be first responders,” Ms. Jaramogi said.


Forging forward

At COP28, experts and activists are gathering to explore the links between climate disasters and sexual and reproductive health, which new research from UNFPA makes urgently clear. 

Analysis from the sexual and reproductive health agency suggests that the crisis-affected countries most vulnerable to climate disruptions are also some of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman or girl, with devastatingly high rates of maternal mortality, child marriage and intimate partner violence.

It all points to the need for global leaders to address the underlying drivers of inequality – including conflict, gender discrimination and racism – that exacerbate the effects of climate change.

“The time is now to put women and girls at the heart of climate action,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.