This year’s 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is dedicated to “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.”

The theme also reflects the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which calls out the inequities inherent in the climate crisis and highlights the important role of social justice in addressing climate risk. Authored by 270 scientists from 67 countries, the IPCC report more strongly integrates the natural, social, and economic sciences than ever before. It recognizes the critical importance of multidisciplinary research to understand the factors between climate, health, and inequality.

The Population Council’s initiative on Population, Environmental Risks, and the Climate Crisis (PERCC) investigates the complex interactions and dynamics between people and their environment. PERCC aims to ensure that climate programs and policies are progressive, inclusive, and rooted in the principles of equity.

For CSW66, we spotlight PERCC research that merges environment, socioeconomic, and demographic data and methods to generate new insights at the intersection of gender and climate.

Child marriage, climate change, and local-level variability

Analysis of the environmental history of 240 communities where child marriage programs take place in rural Bangladesh. 

The evaluation reveals that specific coastal communities have significantly higher child marriage rates while there is no evidence of higher risks in inland flood-affected areas. The results indicate critical differences in climate vulnerability that enable the global community to invest in and develop strategies for individuals and communities most in need.

Rainfall shocks, cognitive development, and educational attainment among adolescents

Study on the mechanisms underlying rainfall shocks and cognitive and educational outcomes for young adolescent girls living in a low-income drought-prone pastoral setting in Kenya. 

The researchers use historical rainfall patterns captured by remote sensing combined with detailed survey data on young adolescents. Results show that rainfall shocks during early childhood and near the ages when children typically start school substantially lowered the probability that they had ever enrolled in school, and reduced school completion by nearly a full grade. However, only shocks that occurred in early life significantly reduced cognitive skills.

The impact of drought on livelihoods, reproductive health, and fertility

Qualitative research on the impact of severe and prolonged droughts on gendered livelihood transitions, women’s social and financial well-being, and sexual and reproductive health in Choma, Mazabuka, Mongu, Kalomo, and Senanga districts in Zambia’s Southern and Western provinces.

Drought-affected communities in Zambia are susceptible to overlapping economic instability and food insecurity that intensify underlying social and structural vulnerabilities for women and girls to sexual health risks—from early marriage to transactional sex. Households headed by females are particularly vulnerable as women’s responsibilities as breadwinners and caregivers increase. This was especially true in households where partners out-migrated. With less income, young children are forced to work; young girls are married; and access to health commodities, including family planning, is limited.

Urbanization and the risk of chronic disease

First study on urbanicity and chronic disease health indicators within sub-Saharan Africa using satellite imagery overlaid on data from the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey to understand the effect of the built environment on health outcomes.

Analysis finds prevalence of elevated C-reactive protein, a measure of chronic inflammation and a predictor of cardiovascular disease, and overweight/obesity among women in Tanzania. Urbanicity is positively associated with BMI, and this association is partly but not fully accounted for by wealth. The findings highlight the potential negative effects of urbanicity on chronic disease markers, with potentially more change detected for those transitioning from rural to urban lifestyles. Satellite-derived urbanicity measures are reproducible and provide a nuanced understanding of the effects of the built environment on health.