Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change: a case study from Iqaluit, Nunavut

Abstract

Climate change impacts in the Arctic will be differentiated by gender, yet few empirical studies have investigated how. We use a case study from the Inuit community of Iqaluit, Nunavut, to identify and characterize vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to changing climatic conditions. Interviews were conducted with 42 Inuit women and were complimented with focus group discussions and participant observation to examine how women have experienced and responded to changes in climate already observed. Three key traditional activities were identified as being exposed and sensitive to changing conditions: berry picking, sewing, and the amount of time spent on the land. Several coping mechanisms were described to help women manage these exposure sensitivities, such as altering the timing and location of berry picking, and importing seal skins for sewing. The adaptive capacity to employ these mechanisms differed among participants; however, mental health, physical health, traditional/western education, access to country food and store bought foods, access to financial resources, social networks, and connection to Inuit identity emerged as key components of Inuit women’s adaptive capacity. The study finds that gender roles result in different pathways through which changing climatic conditions affect people locally, although the broad determinants of vulnerability and adaptive capacity for women are consistent with those identified for men in the scholarship more broadly.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the various community members and stakeholders who shared their knowledge and experiences with us. We would like to acknowledge the contribution of the lead author’s local research assistants Naomi Tatty and Ooloota Nowdluk and the staff at the Nunavut Research Institute for their guidance. This work was supported by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, the Canadian Institute for Health Research Applied Public Health Chair Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Social Science and Humanities Research Council, ArcticNet, Fonds de la Recherce en Santé du Quebec, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the International Development Research Centre. Research licenses were obtained from the McGill University Ethics Board (#368-0214) and the Nunavut Research Institute (0102314 N-M). The Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) Research Team includes: Didacus Bambaiha Namanya; Lea Berrang-Ford; Cesar Carcamo; Alejandro Llanos; Shuaib Lwasa.

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Correspondence to Anna Bunce.

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Bunce, A., Ford, J., Harper, S. et al. Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change: a case study from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Nat Hazards 83, 1419–1441 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-016-2398-6

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Inuit
  • Women
  • Adaptation
  • Vulnerability
  • Gender
  • Nunavut