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Environmental aspects with gender-differentiated impacts

Modified on 2015/05/22 10:43 by Sean Zheng Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Environment
Table II.14

From gender issues to gender statistics on environmental aspects with gender – differentiated impacts: illustrative examples




Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
When water is not available on household premises, do women and men participate equally in water collection? Households/population by availability of water on the premises and sex of the person usually collecting water.

Persons involved in water collection by sex and age.

Time spent on water collection by sex and age.
Household surveys, such as DHS and MICS.


Time-use surveys.
Are women more likely than men to develop health problems due to indoor smoke from solid fuels?

How many women and men are exposed to indoor smoke from solid fuels used for cooking?

Do women and men in the same household have different exposure to indoor smoke?
Relative risks of lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancer by sex and age.

Population using solid fuels for cooking by type of stove, indoor/outdoor location of cooking and sex.

Time spent indoors and time spent near the fire by sex and age.

Time spent cooking by sex.
Epidemiological studies and health administrative records.


Household surveys, such as DHS and MICS.


Small-scale studies.


Time-use surveys.
Are female or male deaths overrepresented among deaths due to various natural disasters? Deaths due to natural disasters by type of hazard, sex and age. Health and other administrative records, including post-disaster assessments.

Population censuses.

Household surveys.

  • + Gender issues
    • Poor infrastructure and living conditions increase the work burden of women and men, but especially that of women. Lack of access to drinking water on the premises or within a short distance continues to affect the lives of women and men in countries in the less developed regions, especially in rural areas. When water is not available on the premises, women are responsible for water collection more often than men (United Nations, 2010; WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2011). Girls are also more likely than boys to be in charge of water collection. The resulting time spent fetching water tends to be much greater for women than for men, especially in rural areas. The gender-specific time burden of water collection may be associated with such factors as age or economic status. For example, water collection may be the task of younger women rather than older women. In addition, in households where mothers are busy working outside the home, older girls may be responsible for fetching water.

      Similarly, lack of access to modern cooking and heating services increases the time burden of women and men (United Nations, 2010). In some countries, a large proportion of households still use firewood for cooking and heating. In communities from poor areas affected by deforestation or where nearby forests are protected, women and men may need to take longer and longer trips to collect firewood. The time spent by women and men collecting firewood as well as the purposes for which they collect it are often different. When the wood is being collected for household needs, such as cooking and heating, women tend to spend more time than men collecting it. When the wood is being collected for selling and gaining income, men tend to spend more time than women collecting it.

      Environmental degradation, difficult access to natural resources and natural disasters may have a different impact on women’s and men’s livelihoods and food security. Women in the less developed regions are particularly vulnerable. They tend to be more dependent on natural resources affected by environmental degradation or natural disasters and yet they may be involved very little in the management of natural resources. Furthermore, women tend to have fewer of the assets (such as land or income) that would help them to access the additional resources necessary to cope with environmental scarcity or to speed up recovery when natural disasters strike.

      Environmental conditions have a major impact on women’s and men’s health. Among the health-risk factors related to the environment, two make the largest contribution to the world’s burden of disease: unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene, and indoor smoke from solid fuels (WHO, 2009). Other factors may refer to outdoor air pollution, chemical exposure and occupational risks. These factors often have a different impact on women’s and men’s health. In particular, indoor smoke from solid fuels affects more women than men. In households where the cooking is done with solid fuels and the ventilation is poor, women are more likely than men to develop acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancer (Desai, Menta and Smith, 2004; Ezzati and others, 2004). The increased health risk for women is mainly due to the fact that women spend more time indoors and more time near the fire while cooking and are therefore more exposed to high-intensity pollution episodes (WHO, 2006).

      Female and male mortality due to natural disasters may differ. The lives of thousands of women and men are lost worldwide every year as a result of natural disasters. Mortality differences by sex may vary from one country to another and by type of hazard (United Nations, 2010), suggesting that it is, rather, the socially-constructed vulnerability of women or men that leads to gender-differentiated mortality rates during natural disasters (United Nations Development Programme, 2011). For example, more women than men died during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as a result of women’s lack of access to information and life skills development and their culturally-constrained mobility outside the home (United Nations, 2010). Natural hazards in other countries, particularly in the developed regions, however, caused larger shares of male deaths, suggesting that men were more inclined towards risk-taking or more involved in activities that would put them at risk (United Nations, 2010).

  • + Data needed
    • Several types of data can be used to assess the impact of the environment on women’s and men’s lives. They are:

      (a) Data on water and firewood collection, such as:

      (i) Persons involved in water collection by sex and age;

      (ii) Time spent on water collection by sex and age;

      (iii) Population by availability of water on the premises, time needed to collect; water per trip and sex of the person usually collecting water;

      (iv) Persons involved in firewood collection by sex and age;

      (v) Time spent on firewood collection by sex and age;

      (vi) The statistics above should be further disaggregated by variables that would account for disparities in infrastructure, such as urban/rural areas or geographical areas. When feasible, information on the deforestation status of geographical areas should be considered as a breakdown variable for statistics on water and firewood collection. For firewood collection, a further breakdown variable, by purpose of firewood collection, should be added, as men and women may collect firewood for different reasons;

      (b) Data on the health impact of environmental conditions, such as:

      (i) Population using solid fuels for cooking by type of fuel, type of stove, indoor/outdoor location of cooking. These data should be further disaggregated by variables that would account for disparities in infrastructure, such as urban/rural areas or geographical areas;

      (ii) Relative risks of lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancer by sex and age;

      (c) When possible, additional data necessary to estimate the gender-differentiated impact of natural disasters should be considered, such as:

      (i) Deaths due to natural disasters by type of hazard, sex and age;

      (ii) School attendance before and after natural disasters by sex, age and level of education;

      (iii) Labour force participation before and after natural disasters by sex and age;

      (iv) Access to resources, such as food, shelter, safe water and sanitation, health services or financial services, such as loans and credit, by sex.


  • + Sources of data
    • The collection of gender statistics related to the environment does not take place within the usual field of environmental statistics, but, rather, is integrated within social statistics. Gender statistics related to the environment may be produced, for example, as part of statistics on time use, housing conditions, health or education.

      Time-use surveys are an important source of data on work burden due to poor infrastructure and poor housing conditions. When access to water and energy is an issue, it is important that time-use surveys are used to collect not only data on time use for water and firewood collection, but also other information, such as (a) the individual characteristics of the persons involved in those activities, such as sex, age, employment other than collecting water or firewood, or purposes for which women and men collect firewood; (b) the basic demographic and economic characteristics of other household members; and (c) information on household assets that can be used to construct wealth indices.

      Household surveys, such as DHS and MICS, may provide information on environmental conditions; however, they provide very little information on the impact of such conditions on women’s and men’s lives. For example, some of the housing conditions data collected by these surveys refer to access to water and sanitation. Data are collected on whether the household has access to water sources and sanitation, how far the source of water is, how much time is needed to fetch the water and whether women or men are usually in charge of fetching it. With regard to the potential health effects of solid fuels used for cooking, demographic and health surveys provide valuable background information on the types of fuels used for cooking and heating as well as on ventilation factors, such as the place where cooking is done or the type of stove that is used for cooking.

      Multipurpose household surveys conducted within the regular programme of a national statistical office can be used to assess the gender-differentiated impacts of a natural disaster when conducted within a short interval of the disaster. It is important to compare, for example, data on school attendance, employment or work burden collected in the last survey before the disaster with data on the same issues collected in the first survey after the disaster. When possible, the post-disaster survey should also assess loss of life, loss of assets and access to the economic resources necessary for recovery.

      Population and housing censuses usually provide important background information related to households/population with poor access to water and households/population using solid fuels for cooking. This background information is useful in assessing the work and health burden of women and men, especially when additional information on gender roles or health risks is available from other sources of data.

      Epidemiological studies and health administrative records are valuable in providing sex-disaggregated information on diseases associated with environmental factors, such as unsafe water and sanitation, lack of hygiene and indoor smoke from solid fuels. The health risks calculated on the basis of these records can be used in combination with background data obtained through household surveys or population and housing censuses to estimate the burden of disease associated with such environmental factors. Health or other administrative records may also be used to obtain sex-disaggregated data on deaths due to natural disasters.

      Administrative records can be useful in assessing mortality due to natural disasters. It is important that basic individual characteristics, such as sex and age, are systematically collected for all deaths. Other information related to circumstances of death, such as where and how the death occurred, is also important. Furthermore, administrative records may be used to assess post-disaster access to resources, such as food, shelter, safe water and sanitation, health services and financial services, such as loans and credit. It is important that individual characteristics, such as sex and age, as well as household characteristics, such as size of the household, number of children and sex of the household head, are systematically recorded.

  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • The adequacy of statistics on gender and environmental conditions is limited by several factors. First, there are no international guidelines on producing environment-related gender statistics. Second, some of the sources needed to produce environment-related gender statistics, such as time-use surveys or health studies, may not be part of the regular programme of data collection in national statistical offices. Third, even when potential data collection instruments exist, they may not be designed to capture the links between gender and environment. Therefore, the data provided by existing sources are often insufficient for a coherent and comprehensive understanding of the impact of environmental aspects on women’s and men’s lives.

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