Impact of climate on health
More than 86% of the 213 surveyed women said their mental health and wellbeing had been affected by the changes in weather. In this context, participants spoke of emotional pain (30%), feeling sorry, sad or depressed (17%), worrying and restlessness (16%) and the mental-health impacts related to their marriage (10%).
Respondents also mentioned feeling devastated or traumatised (6%), stressed (6%), experiencing fear (5%), being traumatised by physical impacts (5%), crying (2%) and being confused and frustrated (2%).
More than 5% admitted having suicidal thoughts. Only 2% (four respondents) mentioned coping strategies, including ‘getting used’ to these emotions.
Fears for next generation
Their biggest worry was for their children and the effects climate-induced food insecurity can have on them, both in the short and long term.
Mothers worried about disasters making it impossible to provide enough food for their children, leading to malnutrition and hunger, which would have a detrimental effect on their education, health and development in general.
Many mothers said they felt guilty about not being able to properly raise their children, an emotion described by one of the participants as ‘painful’.
There was also at least one case of a child losing their life to a landslide, traumatising the mother, who needed to continue caring for her other two children in the direct aftermath of the disaster.
Another interviewee mentioned having to leave their three-year-old child in someone else’s care due to mental illness.
Verbal and physical abuse
Verbal abuse was also a common theme identified among the majority of women and 24 disclosed they had been victims of physical abuse, while 44 women specifically highlighted incidents of physical abuse, saying frequently that ‘husbands beat their wives’ when were asked about gender-based violence occurring in their community.
These emotional testimonies will help decision-makers in Malawi identify, design and develop community-led solutions to adapting to climate change that minimise the risk on women’s mental health and deal with gender-based violence for vulnerable groups.
Researchers have recommended the design of a robust network of support for women (and men) using referral systems and the development of victim-support facilities.
The project was carried out in collaboration with Mzuzu University in Malawi, and Life Concern, a Malawian non-profit organisation which provides sustainable economic empowerment to women and vulnerable populations. The researchers also worked closely with the Malawian Government’s Ministry of Health.
Researchers presented their project findings and recommendations at a workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi.
They met with mental-health practitioners, policy makers, academics, activists, government stakeholders and individuals from affected communities to find areas of common understanding and identify recommendations for support structures for women in need and seek collaborations for further research across more regions in the country and beyond.
‘All too often, it is the people least responsible for global warming that are suffering its worst consequences. This research helps to illustrate the full and terrible extent of those consequences, including the disproportionate impact on women, their mental wellbeing and physical safety.
‘Scotland is committed to supporting countries that have experienced loss and damage as a result of climate change and to ensuring we recognise and address the gendered impacts of the climate crisis. This work will help us deliver on that promise and provide a valuable resource for others looking to address the often-overlooked impacts of loss and damage.’
MAIRI MCALLAN MSP