Climate change and women’s health: a forgotten election issue?

Climate change and women’s health: a forgotten election issue?


Women’s health groups are calling on politicians to investigate the impacts of climate change on Victorian women’s health as a top priority. A document circulated to politicians by the Women’s Health Association of Victoria (WHAV) calls on government to ‘invest in a comprehensive analysis of women in a changing society’ including to ‘investigate the impacts of climate change (and related natural disasters) on the health of Victorian women’.

The CEO of Women’s Health in the South East, Susan Glasgow, says the impacts of climate change on Victorian women’s health became apparent after the Black Saturday bush fires of 2009.

‘Women were impacted more because of caring responsibilities for school aged children, being homeless, supporting their partners and so on,’ Ms Glasgow said.

She advocates for more research into the effects of climate change on women’s health as vital for governments wanting to implement effective health policies.

These requests come as Victoria’s fire season forecast for this summer has been upgraded from average to “potentially major”.
Less than a week out from polling day, the major parties have made no specific commitments in relation to women’s health and climate change.

Climate change needs to be a top health priority for people across the world according to convener of the Climate and Health Alliance, Fiona Armstrong.

‘As the planet warms … it is changing our weather patterns and leading to much more severe, extreme weather events like heat-waves, floods [and] bush fires, Ms Armstrong told UniPollWatch. ‘These have impacts on health … in terms of their direct impact on people if there are injuries or illnesses that are occurring as a result of exposure to those extreme events.’

While climate change will affect the health of both men and women, Ms Armstrong said there is already evidence women are disproportionately affected.

‘Women in general, have lower economic capacity than men. They also tend to have caring responsibilities. They are also globally more inclined to live in places that are more likely to be affected by climate change,’ Ms Armstrong said. ‘So all of those things combine to mean that women are more vulnerable to climate change, so it is very important that we develop strategies to recognise that.’

Ms Armstrong’s claims were echoed in a 2009 report by Women’s Health Victoria which concluded the ‘gendered nature of global warming must be incorporated into responses to climate change’ and current ‘policy gaps’ must be addressed.

Earlier this year the Victorian Auditor-General released a report into the state’s heat wave management strategy that found ‘heat waves have contributed to more deaths than any other natural disaster in Australia”. The Department of Health estimates during the heat wave prior to Black Saturday there were 374 ‘excess deaths’, almost double the 173 people who perished in the fires themselves. The report doesn’t break down statistics by gender, however it does say the elderly are more vulnerable.

According to Ms Armstrong the Auditor-General’s report shows Victoria does not yet have strategies in place to deal with climate change related health issues, including heat-waves.

‘It is important we do have heat-wave plans in place so that people who are vulnerable aren’t going to be adversely affected,’ she said.

Earlier this year Health Minister, David Davis, pointed to improvements in Victoria’s response to heat waves, highlighting a lower number of heat related deaths during 2014’s January heat wave compared to 2009.

Matilda Marozzi is a graduating journalism student from RMIT University