Emergencies tend to exacerbate preexisting vulnerabilities, leaving women more likely to experience the negative effects of environmental, economic, and social crises. The COVID-19 pandemic was no exception, during which women were forced to spend more time doing unpaid domestic work. In the last year, women-led businesses also closed at higher rates than those led by men.
Climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on women, which will only increase as the climate crisis progresses. Women, for example, have higher rates of heat-related morbidity and mortality than men. In many countries, however, the unequal impacts from climate change are driven by long-standing social norms whereby women carry the primary responsibility for managing the household, including the provision of food, water, and shelter — activities all affected by climate change. For example, as rivers have become saltier, women have to travel farther to fetch clean water. When severe weather such as floods and droughts caused by climate change affects communities, young women and girls may have to drop out of school to support their families, and they may be at an increased risk of organized human trafficking because protective patterns in families and society are disrupted. Even at home, they may be at a higher risk of physical, sexual, and domestic violence in the aftermath of disasters.
Information is critical for climate resiliency
Given their disproportionate vulnerability, it is critical to support women around the world as they work to increase their climate resiliency. To better understand viewpoints and challenges associated with climate change, Data for Good at Meta partnered with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication to conduct a survey of Facebook users in early 2021. The survey asked over 75,000 people across 31 countries and territories about their climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences, and behaviors. All respondents were asked to self-identify their gender*, allowing for a unique analysis of the viewpoints of women and how climate change affects them.
Gender differences in awareness of climate change and concern about its effects
In this study, we found that a majority of people in about half of the countries and territories surveyed said they knew at least a moderate amount about climate change, led by Australia and Germany. However, in some countries, there were significant numbers of people who had little to no knowledge of climate change. This includes more than a quarter of people in Nigeria who reported that they had “never heard of it,” as well as substantial portions of people in Malaysia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Since this survey was conducted on Facebook, it may also have underrepresented offline populations that research has shown are less likely to know about climate change, suggesting that even higher proportions of some populations may not know about the existence of this crisis.
While there is lower reported knowledge of climate change in less industrialized countries, there are larger gaps between genders in industrial countries such as the U.K., Canada, and the United States. We see significantly more men saying they know at least a moderate amount about climate change in these countries, highlighting the need to raise public awareness on the issue in both developed and developing countries.
While on average women who took the survey said they knew less about climate change, we found that they were consistently more worried about the issue than men. In the United States, this difference was much larger than in previous studies, with about three-quarters of women reporting being “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about this issue, compared with just over half of men, with similar discrepancies in most of Europe, Canada, and Australia.
Analyzing the potential harm of the changing climate, more women than men said it would harm them personally “a great deal” or a “moderate amount.” In the United States, the U.K., and Canada, there was a nearly 15 percentage point difference between men’s and women’s predictions of harm. This difference is not unfounded — previous research has shown that heatwaves in France, China, and India, as well as tropical cyclones in Bangladesh and the Philippines, were more deadly for women than they were for men. Prior comparisons in the United States also show that women perceive more harm than men on a range of climate-related risk perceptions.
Education and communication
Knowledge about the impacts of climate change along with mitigation and adaptation strategies are all necessary for households and communities addressing this crisis. In particular, women need access to information that helps them address climate impacts that affect their well-being, such as their access to food, water, fuel, and possible displacement due to extreme weather.
While a majority of people in all countries and territories said they want more information about climate change, significantly greater proportions of women reported wanting to know more about the topic. The difference between men and women was notable in the United States, the Czech Republic, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, where the proportion of women who wanted more information about climate change was 10 to 15 percentage points higher than the proportion of men saying so.
There is still an enormous need for basic education, awareness building, and understanding of climate change around the world. As a global social media platform, Meta is well positioned to help share accurate information about climate change, a core motivation for the creation of its Climate Science Center. Through this survey, we learned that while most people surveyed correctly identified human activity as the primary cause of climate change, sizable portions of the population still believe it is caused mostly by natural changes or equally by natural changes and human activity. People in Spain were the most aware that climate change is caused mostly by human activity (64 percent), but even in that setting, more than one in three thought that climate change was caused mostly by natural changes in the environment or caused equally by human activities and natural changes. At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than two in 10 people in Indonesia correctly understood the main driver of climate change.
We observe differences by gender even on these beliefs about climate change. Even though a larger proportion of women are worried about climate change, fewer women are aware of its root causes. This discrepancy is particularly large in Vietnam and Nigeria, where women are less aware than men of the causes of climate change. However, in a few European countries, such as the Netherlands and Czech Republic, more women than men understand the causes of climate change.
This study demonstrates that gender plays an important role in shaping public understanding and responses to climate change. As a result, climate communication campaigns need to recognize these diverse responses and tailor their strategies. We are encouraged by promising research that our partners at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication are doing to better understand different audiences on the topic of climate change and meet their unique needs. Strategies such as storytelling may be particularly effective by including emotional content as well as accurate information.
As a global platform, Meta has a unique ability to inform and engage people around the world in climate change solutions. This study is the first of many to help our partners ensure that people have access to information, resources, and tools to reduce the threat of climate change and prepare for the impacts.
For researchers interested in using this survey data or other datasets provided by Data for Good at Meta, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Our publicly available datasets can also be found on the Humanitarian Data Exchange.
*The survey was fielded between February 17, 2021, and March 3, 2021, to Facebook users over the age of 18. Survey results have been weighted to better reflect the population of each country or territory. More on the methodology is available here. This blog focuses on differences between men and women and unfortunately does not include perspectives of people beyond the gender binary due to a few constraints, including limitations in sample size.