Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 109, Issue 2, pp 268–271 | Cite as

Climate change, colonialism, and women’s well-being in Canada: what is to be done?

  • Lewis Williams


The impacts of accelerating climate change across Canada are unequally distributed between populations and regions. Emerging evidence shows climate change and resultant policies to be worsening gendered social and economic inequities between women and men, with women’s participation largely absent in climate change research and decision-making. These dynamics are resulting in negative impacts for women’s well-being, with Indigenous and historically marginalized women at increased risk of experiencing health inequities as a result of climate change. To date, public health discourse has largely failed to incorporate gender as a key determinant of health in discussions of climate change impacts on populations. Paralleling this lack of development, the entangled relationship between climate and colonialism tends to be subsumed under the term “Aboriginality” within health determinants discourse. This commentary on gender and climate change in Canada is framed within a radical intersectional approach as an alternative course of public health analysis and action aimed at addressing resulting health and power inequities. Following an overview of evidence regarding the gendered impacts of climate change on women’s work, roles, agency, and well-being, several possible public health action areas on climate change and gender are highlighted as necessary components for resilient communities capable of meeting contemporary challenges.


Women Climate change Indigenous Gender 


Les incidences de l’accélération des changements climatiques sont inégalement réparties entre les populations et les régions du Canada. Selon les preuves émergentes, les changements climatiques et les politiques qui en résultent creuseraient les inégalités sociales et économiques entre les femmes et les hommes, la participation des femmes à la recherche et à la prise de décisions sur les changements climatiques étant largement absente. Une telle dynamique a des effets nuisibles sur le bien-être des femmes, et les femmes autochtones et historiquement marginalisées courent un risque accru d’être victimes d’inégalités de santé en raison des changements climatiques. Jusqu’à maintenant, le discours de la Santé publique a généralement omis d’inclure le sexe parmi les grands déterminants de la santé lorsqu’il est question des incidences des changements climatiques sur les populations. En parallèle à ce développement insuffisant, le discours sur les déterminants de la santé a tendance à fondre la relation enchevêtrée entre le climat et le colonialisme dans la notion d’ « autochtonité ». Notre commentaire sur le sexe et les changements climatiques au Canada s’inscrit dans une approche intersectionnelle radicale qui se veut une option de rechange à l’analyse et à l’intervention de la Santé publique devant les inégalités de santé et de pouvoir qui résultent des changements climatiques. Nous résumons la preuve des incidences des changements climatiques sur le travail, les rôles, le pouvoir et le bien-être des femmes, puis nous faisons valoir que la Santé publique a plusieurs champs d’action possibles à l’égard des changements climatiques et du sexe, et que ce sont des éléments nécessaires à la résilience des communautés et à leur capacité de relever les défis contemporains.


Femmes Changement climatique Autochtones Sexe 



This article draws on research previously undertaken by the author towards the report Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None to declare.


  1. Arora-Jonsson, S. (2011). Virtue and vulnerability: discourses on women, gender and climate change. Glob Environ Chang, 21(2), 744–751. Scholar
  2. Arvin, M., Tuck, E., & Morrill, A. (2013). Decolonizing feminism: challenging connections between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy. Fem Form, 25(1), 8–34.Google Scholar
  3. Baruah, B. (2017). Renewable inequity? Women’s employment in clean energy in industrialized, emerging and developing economies. Nat Res Forum, 41(1), 18–29. Scholar
  4. Beaumier, M. C., & Ford, J. (2010). Food insecurity amongst Inuit women exacerbated by socio-economic stress and climate change. Canadian J of Public Health, 101(3), 196–201.Google Scholar
  5. Bunce, A., Ford, J., & Harper, S. (2016). Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change. A case study from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Nat Hazards, 83, 1419–1441.Google Scholar
  6. Cameron, E. (2012). Securing indigenous politics. A critique of the vulnerability and adaptation approach to the human dimension of climate in the Canadian Artic. Glob Environ Chang, 22(1), 103–114. Scholar
  7. Canadian Council of Academies (2014). Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada: an assessment of the state of the knowledge. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Academies. Accessed 2nd Feb 2017.
  8. Connell, K., Whittaker, J. (2015). LGBT economic empowerment in an era of climate crisis. Accessed 4th Feb 2017.
  9. Fletcher, A., & Knuttila, E. (2016). Gendering change: Canadian farm women respond to farm drought. In H. Diaz, M. Hurlbert, & J. Warren (Eds.), Vulnerability and adaptation to drought: the Canadian prairies and South America. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gaard, G. (2015). Ecofeminism and climate change. Womens Studies International Forum, 49, 20–33. Scholar
  11. Griffin-Cohen, M. (2014). Gendered emissions. Counting greenhouse gas emissions by gender and why it matters. Alternative Routes A Journal of Critical Social Research, 25, 55–80.Google Scholar
  12. Health Canada (2008). Human health in a changing climate: a Canadian assessment of vulnerabilities and adaptive capacity. Ottawa: Health Canada. Accessed 12th Nov 2016.
  13. Magis, K. (2010). Community resilience: an indicator of social sustainability. Society and Natural Resources, 23(5), 401–416. Scholar
  14. Morgan, C. (2008). The Arctic: gender issues. INFOSERIES. 28th October 2008. Accessed 5th Dec 2016.
  15. Nagel, J. (2015). Gender, conflict and the militarization of climate change policy. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 27, 202–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Perkins, PE. (2014). Gender and climate justice in Canada. Women and Environments International Magazine, 94/95:17–20. Accessed 3rd Dec 2016.
  17. Perkins, P. E. (2017). Gender justice and climate justice: building women’s economic and political agency through global partnerships. In S. Le Masson & V. Buckingham (Eds.), Understanding climate change through gender relations. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada. Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. Accessed 11th April 2017.
  19. Warren, F.J., Lemmen, D.S. (2014). Synthesis. In: Warren, F.J., Lemmen, D.S. (Eds.), Canada in a changing climate: sector perspectives on impact and adaptation. Ottawa : Government of Canada. Accessed 4th Nov 2016.
  20. Whyte, K. P. (2014). Indigenous women, climate change impacts and collective action. Hypatia, 29(3), 599–616. Scholar
  21. Williams, L., Fletcher, A., Hanson, C., Neapole, J., and Pollack, M. (2018) Women and climate change impacts and action in Canada: feminist, Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. Ottawa: Collaboratively produced by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience, and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, Feb 2018. Prepared for W3 Working in a Warming World, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada. Accessed 28th Feb 2018.

Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public HealthUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.School of Environmental StudiesUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations