Gender related impacts of climate change in Finland


Impacts of climate change on men and women are beginning to receive global attention. Poor women in developing countries who attend to farming are likely to suffer the most from climate change. On the other hand, hunter men utilising ice for moving in the arctic area will most likely be the first to lose their livelihood. But can climate change have gender-specific impacts also in Finland?

Men and women do different kind of work

The focus of climate change impacts depends partially on how people are divided into different professions. The Finnish workforce is sharply divided into male- and female-dominated industries [1]. The impacts on the genders may be significant if an industry suffers or benefits from the effects of climate change. In addition, gender-specific impacts on livelihoods are greatly affected by emission reduction and adaptation measures and the development of the market situation in Finland and elsewhere in the world. This renders it difficult to assess the impacts of climate change on different industries and the genders working in them.

In many developing countries, the majority of the economy is still tightly dependent on the use of natural resources. Instead, in Finland the role of primary production as an employer is small, so most Finns will not be faced with the impacts of climate change in the same way, directly through their work. Currently in Finland, primary production and other work performed outdoors such as construction employ more men than women. [2] For agriculture and forestry, climate change is assessed to introduce mainly positive impacts such as a longer growing season, which may improve the profitability of these industries.

Health impacts may vary gender-specifically

Climate change is expected to cause some direct health impacts to Finns. International assessments have suggested that rising temperatures in the northern areas in the winter would reduce mortality due to cold [3]. On the other hand, for Finns who are accustomed to the cool climate, the warmer summer weathers may prove a health problem. When the daily average temperature remains above 20 ̊C for 1–2 weeks, there is a clear increase in mortality. Heat waves in the early summer are particularly dangerous, as the body has not yet adjusted to high temperatures. In August 2003, Europe was faced with the dangers of hot weather when 30,000–35,000 people died prematurely due to hot weather [4]. According to research, mortality rates were higher among women than men, irrespective of education level, for example [5].

Also in Finland, the temperature problem will most likely affect men and women differently. The majority of elderly people susceptible to high temperatures are women in Finland. In addition, most are widows so help is not necessarily nearby. [6] Another group of people most often exposed to weather conditions are outdoor workers who are mostly men working in agriculture or forestry and the construction industry. In addition, the physical nature of the work increases the health risks these men are exposed to. Furthermore, children – still mainly cared for by women – are susceptible to high temperatures.

Figure. Climate change may cause health hazards to people working outdoors. Most workers in the construction industry are men.

© Eero J. Laamanen

Climate change has an effect on the exercise habits of men and women

Exercising during the winter may have gender-specific differences. Because of their lower income level, women are estimated to have less possibilities to uphold their skiing hobby, when skiing requires more and more travelling to find snow [7]. On the other hand, men are threatened by ever weakening ice conditions. Men move on frozen waters more often than women and are thus also the most likely victims of winter drowning. For example, in 2008, the majority of drowning victims in the winter were older men. When the ice is no longer as strong as it used to be because of the warming climate, the nature knowledge of elderly people may be deceiving as they assess the ice strength. [8]

Women have less money for climate change

On the whole, climate change will affect the poor countries and people most severely. Compared to many other countries, wealthy Finland is in a much better position with respect to the overall impacts of climate change. However, there are wealth differences within the population that can have an effect on how the destructions caused by extreme weather phenomena influence different people. In addition, there is a difference between the genders: in 2008, the average monthly income for the working population was EUR 3,200 for men and EUR 2,600 for women. [9] Thus, the costs of climate change hindrances may be relatively bigger for women than men. On the other hand, allocation of the cost effects also depends on the division of wealth between the genders.

Missing information

In its development cooperation, Finland has invested in taking the gender viewpoint into consideration [10]. However, research to the impacts of climate change on Finnish men and women is scarce, and this lack of information impedes the implementation of effective adaptation and mitigation measures. Therefore, more information regarding the gender-specific impacts of climate change is needed.