Fri, 21 Jun 2024 Article

The Disproportionate Impact of Climate Change on Women and Children in Ghana

By Augustina Entsua-Mensah
The Disproportionate Impact of Climate Change on Women and Children in Ghana

Climate change is one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, with far-reaching consequences that extend beyond environmental concerns. In Ghana, the effects of climate change have been particularly acute, with vulnerable populations bearing the brunt of the impact. Women and children, in particular, face disproportionate challenges due to existing social, economic, and cultural inequalities.

Ghana's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which is highly sensitive to changes in weather patterns and climate. As the country experiences more frequent and severe droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events, the livelihoods and food security of its people are increasingly under threat. These environmental stresses further exacerbate the vulnerabilities of marginalized groups, including women and children.

In order to demonstrate the urgent need for focused interventions and legislative reforms, this article analyses the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and children in Ghana. It does this by utilizing data and recent research. Policymakers and other stakeholders can endeavour to create a future that is more resilient and fairer for all Ghanaians by recognizing the age- and gender-specific effects of climate change.

The Gendered Impacts of Climate Change in Ghana

Studies have shown that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities in Ghana, with women experiencing a heavier burden than their male counterparts. According to the 2021 Ghana Living Standards Survey, women in Ghana spend an average of 4 hours per day on domestic and caregiving tasks, compared to just 1 hour for men. As climate change disrupts access to water, food, and other essential resources, women are forced to spend more time and energy to have access to these resources, leaving less time for other productive activities and income-generating opportunities.

Furthermore, climate-induced disasters, such as flooding and droughts, often lead to the loss of livelihoods and assets, which disproportionately impact women. Data from the Ghana Disaster Management Organization indicates that in the aftermath of the 2015 floods, 72% of affected households were headed by women, who often had limited access to financial resources and decision-making power. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that women-headed households in Ghana experienced a 20% decline in per capita household consumption following climate-related shocks, compared to a 10% decline for male-headed households. Without the ability to recover from these shocks, women in Ghana are more vulnerable to falling into a cycle of poverty and vulnerability.

The gendered nature of climate change in Ghana is also reflected in the health and wellbeing outcomes of women. A recent study found that during periods of drought, women in Ghana were more likely to experience mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, due to the added stress of securing resources for their families. This can have long-term consequences for women's overall health and their ability to participate in economic and social activities.

The Impact on Children
Children in Ghana are also disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. As droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events disrupt agricultural production and food supply, child malnutrition rates have increased significantly. According to the 2021 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey, the prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years old has risen from 18.8% in 2014 to 22.4% in 2021, with the highest rates observed in drought-affected regions. This is particularly concerning, as chronic malnutrition can have long-lasting effects on a child's physical and cognitive development.

Moreover, climate-related disasters often lead to the disruption of education, as schools are damaged or forced to close down and children are required to assist their families in coping with the crisis. Data from the Ghana Education Service shows that in the aftermath of the 2015 floods, school attendance rates dropped by an average of 15% in affected areas, with girls being more likely to drop out of school than boys. This has the potential to widen the educational gap between boys and girls, further entrenching gender inequalities.

The psychological impact of climate change on children in Ghana is also a growing concern. A study by the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies at the University of Ghana found that children who experienced climate-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, were more likely to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. These mental health challenges can impede a child's ability to learn, socialize, and develop essential life skills, ultimately undermining their long-term well-being and future prospects.

Adapting and Building Resilience
To address the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and children in Ghana, a comprehensive and multifaceted approach is needed. This includes investing in gender-responsive adaptation strategies, strengthening social protection systems, and empowering vulnerable communities to build resilience.

One promising initiative is the Ghana Productive Safety Net Project, which provides cash transfers and livelihood support to over 100,000 poor and vulnerable households, with a particular focus on women and children. Evaluations of the project have shown that it has helped to improve household food security, increase school enrolment, and reduce the incidence of child labour. Expanding and enhancing such programs can play a critical role in building the resilience of women and children in the face of climate change.

Additionally, research has highlighted the importance of incorporating gender considerations into climate change adaptation planning and implementation. A study by the International Institute for Environment and Development found that in Ghana, women's participation in community-level adaptation initiatives has led to more effective and equitable outcomes, such as improved access to water and agricultural resources. Ensuring that women's voices are heard and their unique needs are addressed can help to create more inclusive and sustainable adaptation strategies.

At the policy level, the Government of Ghana has taken steps to address climate change, including the development of a National Climate Change Policy and the establishment of the Ghana Climate Innovation Centre, which supports the development of climate-smart technologies. However, more can be done to ensure that these efforts adequately address the gendered and age-specific impacts of climate change, and that they are accompanied by adequate funding and robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Strategies to Empower Women and Children

A comprehensive approach is required to enable women and children in Ghana to adjust to the effects of climate change. This entails boosting social security programs, putting money into education and skill development, and making it easier for women to participate in decision-making.

Investing in Education and Skills Development

Ensuring access to quality education is crucial for building the resilience of women and children. Studies have shown that educated women are more likely to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices, make informed decisions about resource management, and advocate for their rights. In Ghana, the government has implemented initiatives like the Free Senior High School policy, which has helped to increase school enrolment rates, especially among girls. However, more can be done to address the specific educational needs of children affected by climate-related disruptions, such as providing targeted support for those displaced by natural disasters or living in drought-affected communities.

Alongside formal education, skills development programs that equip women and youth with practical knowledge and tools for climate adaptation can also be highly effective. For example, the Ghana Developing Youth Enterprises in Climate Change Adaptation project, implemented by the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement, has trained over 2,000 young people in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and disaster risk reduction. Scaling up such initiatives can empower women and children to become active agents of change in their communities.

Strengthening Social Protection Programs

Robust social protection systems are essential for safeguarding the well-being of vulnerable populations in the face of climate change. In Ghana, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program, which provides cash transfers and health insurance to poor households, has been shown to improve food security, school attendance, and child health outcomes. By expanding the reach and coverage of such programs, particularly in climate-affected regions, the government can help to cushion the impact of environmental shocks on women and children.

Furthermore, integrating climate change considerations into the design and implementation of social protection programs can enhance their effectiveness. For instance, the Ghana Productive Safety Net Project, mentioned earlier, has incorporated climate-smart agriculture training and disaster risk reduction strategies to better support beneficiaries in adapting to the changing climate.

Facilitating Women's Participation in Decision-Making

Encouraging women to take part in the planning and decision-making processes related to climate change adaptation is essential to guaranteeing that their viewpoints and needs are taken into account when designing policies and programs. A few things have changed in Ghana. For example, the Women's Caucus in Parliament was formed to support gender-responsive climate policies. Still, more has to be done to provide accessible and inclusive spaces where women, particularly those from underprivileged communities, can express their worries and share their expertise.

Initiatives led by the community that support women in leadership and group work can also be quite important. For instance, the Volta Region's Women's Adaptation Network has trained local women to act as climate change advocates, inspiring their communities to adopt sustainable farming practices and emergency preparedness measures. It is possible to strengthen the voices of women and guarantee that adaption solutions are suited to their particular needs and interests by expanding and duplicating such grassroots initiatives.

Ghana's women and children have suffered greatly as a result of climate change, which has exacerbated already-existing vulnerabilities and inequities. Policymakers and other stakeholders can endeavour to create a future that is more resilient and equitable for all Ghanaians by recognizing the gendered aspect of climate change and putting tailored policies into place. To ensure that no one is left behind in the face of this global issue, addressing the needs of women and children must be a keystone of Ghana's efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Written By: Augustina Entsua-Mensah
MPhil Student: Department of Communication – University of Cape Coast

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