Heat waves pose disproportionate threat to female workforce, claims study

The report titled “The Scorching Divide” suggests that women from marginalized and poor backgrounds will be the worst affected by intensifying heat waves

August 23, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Heatwaves impact on women
(Photo: via onebillionresilient.org)

As climate change ushers in an “era of global boiling” with record breaking heat waves, workers in low-income states of the Global South are the most vulnerable, according to a new study by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock). The study also notes that frequent heat waves are “disproportionately dangerous” and pose a “greater threat to the women” and their livelihoods.   

The report titled “The Scorching Divide” suggests that women from marginalized and poor backgrounds will be the worst affected from intensifying heat waves. It discusses in detail the socio-economic and physical effects that heat waves pose to women in India, the US, and Nigeria, where the average number of severely hot days is projected to at least double by 2050. 

The report quotes a 30-year-old farm worker In India, Savitri Devi, who worked in the fields in the northern State of Uttar Pradesh as temperatures rose to as high as 44 degrees Celsius during the harsh summers. “We get nose bleeds. We need to sit and spray water on our heads, and we also use baskets to cover our heads,” she said. The report states that despite toiling for hours each day, she was subjected to wage cuts. “I obviously suffered working in the sun. I fell ill, and my wages (USD 3 per day) were cut for every hour lost due to the heat. But what do I do? I have to work for money.” 

The report notes that “By 2050, women are expected to lose 22 percent of their paid working hours, which would cost 1 percent of India’s GDP or $250 billion each year.” It adds that intense heat has pushed female wages below the poverty line in three sectors which account for 70% of total female employment, including agriculture, construction, and other activities. 

According to the findings, as many as 204,000 women could lose their lives due to heat strokes annually in the three countries. This June, over 150 people lost their lives due to intense heat in India, among them 68 in Uttar Pradesh and 44 in Bihar. Between 2004 to 2021, heat-related deaths in India increased by at least 55%, as per a study by The Lancet

The report highlights the disproportionate impact that increasing heat waves would have on women. Women in India lost nearly a fifth of their paid working hours (19% of paid working hours) to heat this summer, the report said. For the rural poor, droughts dent crop harvests and fuel male migration from villages in search of alternative work, while women are left behind to take care of farms and families. Last year, a report by HomeNet South Asia had come to a similar conclusion about women across South Asian countries like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Over 40% of women surveyed had reported that they faced a loss in their income and an increase in caregiving duties as a result of extreme heat.

India is home to more than one-sixth of the world’s female population. The report notes that these women face significant gender inequality, particularly in terms of labor force participation: “At 24%, the female labor force participation rate is one of the lowest among developing economies” and women earn 35% less than their male counterparts, the report states.

The Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), a UN-backed organization, estimates that around 1.2 billion rural and urban poor globally are expected to be living without cooling solutions by 2030, 323 million in India alone. These figures illustrate the widespread impact the heat waves will have on millions.