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Climate Change Takes Toll On Women As Men Pushed To Leave Home

Pakistani nomad women carry water to their houses in a hazy evening on the outskirts of Islamabad. (file photo)
Pakistani nomad women carry water to their houses in a hazy evening on the outskirts of Islamabad. (file photo)

DHAKA, (Reuters) -- As climate change drives men in Asia and Africa to abandon their farms and search for jobs further afield, women back home are getting little help to cope with harsher working conditions, putting their well-being at risk, researchers said on November 25.

A report from the United Kingdom's University of East Anglia (UEA) said the burden on women is increasing as they are left to take care of children and land while men who leave cannot provide consistent support.

"Male migration has been seen as an adaptation strategy for climate change, but from a gender perspective it is not helping in household maintenance and survival," said UEA professor Nitya Rao, the report's lead author.

"The labor market is unequal (for) women. For instance, in East Africa, women have to go for more risky work. ... They are getting into drug-smuggling or casual sex work. That's the only way they can survive," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study's findings chime with the views of many aid agencies and disaster experts who say women and girls are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change.

Men, meanwhile, are leaving home more often to seek work as weather patterns have become increasingly erratic in the past decade, making it harder to earn a living from the land -- but moving may not solve the problem, Rao said.

"The labor market is not always open for these poor workers, and they don't get jobs on a regular basis," she added.

The lack of state and private support systems for families has led women to neglect their health and nutrition, said the report, which assessed 25 case studies from regions prone to climate-linked disasters in Asia and Africa.

One woman from Pakistan said that after floods destroyed the cotton crop in her region, her wages decreased by 60 percent.

"Men can easily migrate for work whereas we have to stay here (at home) to take care of the family," she was quoted as saying in the report.

In drought-prone Kenya, when men took livestock to find grazing, women lost control over milk consumption and sales and had to work harder to feed their children, the report noted.

"Workloads of women are increasing too much in terms of care work, domestic work, and this is leading to negative outcomes," Rao said. "We need to find a way to support them."

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said women should be included in efforts to prepare communities for safer and more effective migration in the future as the planet warms.