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Posted In: Blog
Posted On: 08, 08, 2017

Back To PostsHow Environmental Degradation May Contribute to Domestic Violence in South Asian Slums

To better understand how climate change is affecting women in South Asia’s informal settlements, the IDRC commissioned a survey with 1,200 respondents in 12 slums in Islamabad, Lahore, Dhaka and Delhi. The survey generated rich data of life, covering economic, environmental, and gender issues through both qualitative interviews and quantitative questionnaires.

Previous studies have highlighted the enormous challenges faced by impoverished women living in informal settlements in developing countries: Women often shoulder almost all domestic responsibilities, including childcare, cooking, and caring for the elderly. Impoverished women who take on jobs to support their families are often only able to get informal work in a few sectors—and must continue to meet their domestic responsibilities. Rape, domestic abuse, and harassment against women are also more likely to occur in impoverished areas. Our research suggests that climate change impacts such as torrential rains, floods, and heat waves have the capability to exacerbate all of these challenges for women, especially those living in slums.



In our interviews, women in Delhi and Dhaka reported that frequent torrential rain and poor drainage has led to large increases in diseases such as dengue and chikungunya. Further, they complained of additional stress created by caring for sick children on top of work and other domestic responsibilities. The Delhi women indicated that floods and heatwaves made it impossible for them to work for months at a time, leaving their families financially insecure. They stated that many husbands, left temporarily unemployed by floods, turned to alcoholism and domestic abuse. Climate change affects every aspect of their lives: their financial security, their marriage, and their physical well-being. Anshula Bibi, a young woman from the Ghazipur slum in Delhi bemoaned:

The heat is scorching during summers. The overhead sun is unbearable in the afternoon and it is hard to work as most of my work is outside sorting through the garbage. I even have to skip work on some days.”

At first glance, our survey data seemed to contradict the women’s responses in our qualitative interviews. We found no statistically signifcant relationship between the time women reported caring for family members and the prevalence of climate change impacts. Further, we found no relationship between climate change reports and women’s income or experience of physical abuse.

However, more targeted analysis suggested that climate change affected families in a myriad of small, yet significant ways. Women in Delhi and Islamabad spent an average of 1 more hour caring for family members per day if they reported climate change impacts. Women who reported climate-related illness in the family were more than 2 times as likely to be sleep deprived. Further, in Pakistan many more women than men reported bad air quality in their homes —a condition that disproportionately affects women due to their increased hours in the home.







Women in families suffering from climate related sicknesses were more likely to be sleep deprived

We theorized that this combination of small but meaningful impacts of climate change could increase the stress faced by women and their husbands – potentially leading to domestic conflict. After controlling for confounding variables, such as women’s opinions about gender issues, we found striking relationships between environmental factors and reports of domestic violence. In Delhi and Islamabad, women were twice as likely to report domestic violence for every 2 days’ worth of income their family spent treating environmentally related illnesses. In Delhi, women without paid leave were 4 times more likely to report abuse. In Islamabad, women with bad air quality in their homes were 6 times more likely to report physical abuse. These findings confirm the admission of one married man from Islamabad’s Akram Gill Colony:

“… I don’t condone wife-beating… but yes, once in a while on a very hot day, or when our incomes are strained… we do end up [in such a situation]…”


This study indicates that climate change impacts exacerbate the vulnerability of women in informal settlements across various dimensions. The evidence directly connecting climate change variables to increased domestic responsibilities or reduced earnings for women was weak. However, further analysis suggested that the combination of these stressors may be causally connected with domestic abuse. As the world continues to focus on reducing climate change and understanding its effects, it’s important for researchers to delve deeply into individuals’ lives to generate a fuller picture of the non-obvious and gender-specific impacts of climate change.





This blog is written by Jared Stolove, Research Intern at the Urban Institute and is part of LEAD’s work on a project titled ‘Making growth work for women in low-income countries (GrOW ).’ The project is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC). LEAD is implementing this project in South Asia as part of a consortium with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.