Environmental Justice

melbourneWomen’s Health In the North (WHIN) agrees with the world’s leading scientists that climate change is one of the most pressing and urgent issues of the 21st century. Women are particularly susceptible to climate change and climate change-induced disaster owing to factors including gendered roles, and unequal access to wealth, power and privilege.

Environmental Justice is a priority area for our work, and we are focusing on:

  • Producing evidence, research and resources which demonstrate the relationship between women’s health and wellbeing and climate change;
  • Advocating for organisations and government to specifically consider women’s health and wellbeing when planning and responding to climate change;
  • Increasing women’s knowledge of and capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change on women’s health and wellbeing; and
  • Being a strong public voice on women and climate change.

View WHIN’s Position Statement on Environmental Justice.

On this page:

Environmental Justice and Women

In this section of our website, Women's Health In the North and Women's Health Goulburn North East collaboratively:

pose questions and challenges

invite your comment, your art, your poetry

proclaim women's experiences

expound our research and our stance

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What do we mean by 'Environmental Justice'?

• The term 'Environmental Justice' refers to the just distribution of environmental risk and benefits amongst the population and the right of all to meaningful participation in environmental decision-making. (

• Women are greatly under-represented in environmental decision making, and the perspective women can bring to such processes is under-recognised and under-utilised.

• We agree with the world's leading scientists that climate change is one of the most urgent issues of the 21st century. Women may be particularly susceptible to climate change and disasters, yet a gendered perspective is largely absent from environmental research, policy, planning and implementation.

• The environmental justice model offers a useful framework for the identification and reduction of environmental risk to women and men, as it offers access to a body of knowledge established over decades.

• As stated by Women for Climate Justice, 'There will be no climate justice without gender justice'.

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Food, Pay, Love Working Group

Food-Pay-LoveFollowing the success of Food, Pay, Love in May 2015, WHIN is starting a voluntary group to continue to progress the work begun at the event. If you are interested in joining a working group to explore and promote the relationship between women, the economy and the environment in a women-only setting, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Nicole-Foss-2014Nicole Foss Seminar

On Tuesday, 7th October, 2014, WHIN welcomed Canadian sustainability expert Nicole Foss along with 25 community members and WHIN staff to a symposium about building community resilience to climatic and economic disasters. The event began with a talk by Nicole about the future of the global financial system and its implications for Australia, making links with the challenges posed by climate change. She shared with us her practical views on how to prepare for the threat of financial crisis by fostering interdependence at the community level. Nicole’s talk was followed by an animated discussion on ways forward for women in the Northern Region. The event was a great success with much productive discussion and networking among participants.

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Thinking about Climate Change Can Be Overwhelming...

Hearing about the likely changes to the world under climate change may cause feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, depression and anger; and the problem appears, sometimes, so vast that there seems like nothing we do will have any effect. But we don't have to face climate change with horror or resignation. The Australian Psychological Society has produced two tip-sheets to help deal with the distressing feelings that may arise from thinking about climate change:

Climate Change - What You Can Do

Talking with Children about the Environment

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The 14th Annual Emergency Management Conference

Diversity in Emergency Services - The Gender Stream

EM-Conference-Flyer Gender-StreamPresented by the Melbourne Fire Brigade, with the support of Women’s Health Goulburn North East and Women’s Health In the North, as part of The 14th Annual Emergency Management Conference.

Over the past five years, research in Victoria with women, The Way He Tells It: Relationships after Black Saturday, and then with men, Men on Black Saturday: Risks and Opportunities for Change, has started the conversation on catastrophic disaster and gender in Australia. The findings of this research – and subsequent presentations by national and international presenters at two groundbreaking Victorian Disaster conferences - were compelling in their depictions of the danger to women’s and men’s health and wellbeing of ignoring gender in disaster planning, response and recovery.

On Wednesday 2nd July, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade - with the support of Women’s Health Goulburn North East and Women’s Health In the North - presented ‘Diversity in Emergency Services [Gender Stream]’, as part of The 14th Annual Emergency Management Conference.

With presentations and workshops delivered by experts in the fields of gender, disaster, family violence and emergency management, this event tackled the controversies and highlighted the potential of a new approach to gender in emergency management.

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Identifying the Hidden Disaster: The First Australian Conference on Natural Disasters and Family Violence

9 March 2012 - Melbourne

(Sponsored by the Nikolaus Institute and VicHealth)


Full proceedings are available here.

This Australia-first conference was held in Melbourne on Friday, 9 March 2012 and opened by the Deputy Commissioner of Victoria Police, Tim Cartwright. Keynote speakers were Elaine Enarson, leading international researcher on gender and disaster; Lois Herbert, Manager of the Battered Women's Refuge in Christchurch; and Megan Sety from the Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse. A highlight of the Conference was the first hand and heartrending accounts from two women whose relationships suffered in the aftermath of Black Saturday.

The Conference provided a perfect forum for the launch of the first Asutralian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster, The Way He Tells It, from Women's Health Goulburn North East. Issues raised in this research were considered by the twelve key players in disaster management in a Hypothetical. The day concluded with five Action Planning Workshops to give delegates the opportunity to discuss the implications of the conference learnings and identify achievable actions.

Read the Conference Evaluation Report here.

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A Numbers Game: Lack of gendered data impedes prevention of disaster-related family violence

hpjournalThe Health Promotion Journal of Australia has published an article co-written by staff at Women's Health In the North and Women's Health Goulburn North East in its December, 2011 edition.

'A Numbers Game' addresses the lack of a systematic approach to collecting family violence data after Black Saturday. Its premise is that health promotion theory and service planning demand a sound evidence base for interventions. In the absence of this, family violence following disasters will continue to be overlooked in the face of 'urgent' needs.

You can see a summary of the article,  read the complete article or access the special Climate Change and Health Promotion Issue.

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Women and Environmental Justice: a literature review

red box sapplingThe Environmental Justice movement works for the fair distribution of the burdens brought by climate change. Its focus is mainly on race and socioeconomic class, yet we believe that a gendered analysis of environmental issues is central to achieving justice. This gendered focus will ensure that women and girls are not disproportionately affected by the effects of devastating environmental problems such as climate change and that any needs they have that are different to those of men will be adequately addressed. Importantly, women must be involved at all levels of addressing environmental issues, including climate-change induced disasters.

In order to ascertain the effects that climate change and other environmental issues are having on women and girls in Melbourne's northern region, this wide-ranging literature review addresses a number of topics that relate to women and environmental justice, including economic participation; vulnerability to natural disasters and heatwaves; mental health; rural women; the elderly, children and disabled; and leadership.

Our research has shown that women are unduly affected by environmental problems for three main reasons: because they are generally poorer than men, because of the social construction of womanhood and because of their longer life spans. The interaction of these factors with forms of discrimination such as sexism, racism and ageism result in social conditions that put women at risk of environmental injustice.

Access the two-page fact sheet here.

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The Effect of Climate Change on Women

Cathy Weiss discusses with Deb Parkinson the findings from the above literature review she conducted on the impact of climate change on women.

 Now take the quiz to test your knowledge...

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Women and Environmental Justice: the presentation

See an outline presentation of the literature review.


View WHIN’s submission to the Victorian Climate Change Green Paper (2009).

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Gender and Disaster Planning

women and disaster flyer-1This two-page flyer is useful to emergency workers and anyone involved in disaster planning, reconstruction and recovery.


Join the International Gender and Disaster network...

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Beating the Flames

Women escaping and surviving Black Saturday

return of the wildflowersOn Black Saturday many women were left alone, often with children, to escape or fight the sudden fires. Some made the decision to leave early and returned to a community changed physically and emotionally forever. Read the stories of 21 women in Beating the Flames.

The accounts of how women responded and were affected during and after the Black Saturday fires cast light on a complex and heartbreaking time. Lives changed and the aftermath continues to be felt in families and communities devastated by fire. We invite you to share your story. Submit your story of Black Saturday or the days, weeks and even years that followed.  

Black Saturday Art:

Visual art has been a way to express both the horror and grief of Black Saturday and the cautious joy in survival and renewal.

Submit your story, art or poem

We invite you to share your story, art and poetry.

Submit your story of Black Saturday or the days, weeks and even years that followed. Submit your images of art you have created around the events of Black Saturday. Submit your poems that capture the essence the events of Black Saturday.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*Please Note Stories, Art and Poems submitted will be posted to this website

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Art Submitted:

ona-henderson green-velvet-





Green Velvet is Covering the Blackened Earth - Ona Henderson©

The recent Identifying the Hidden Disaster Conference in Melbourne encouraged women to express through art. A number of pieces were created. You can have a look at the Conference's Art in our photo gallery.

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Poetry Submitted:

clotheslinePoems from Black Saturday capture the essence of events and raw emotions. Add your poem to this website. You can also read what others have posted.

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Stories Submitted:

survivor guilt-1

one womans journey 


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Women, Disaster and Violence

It appears that the collective imagination that women and children come first in a disaster is a myth... Read the international literature review Gender and Disaster.

For a summary, see Women and Disaster article in the Australian Women's Health Network, February 2011 newsletter.

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Does Violence against Women Increase after a Disaster?

the blackened treesRead The Way He Tells It: Relationships after Black Saturday

Two years of collecting and analysing accounts from women and workers affected by Black Saturday has yielded complex and disturbing findings. Social services workers - including police, domestic violence workers, counsellors and recovery workers - shared their knowledge and insight into the effect of the disaster on personal and community relationships. Women themselves have spoken of their experiences of post-bushfire violence.

A striking feature of this research is what is missing. No sound data collection existed to identify and record incidents of family violence, and women's traditional reluctance to report violence against them was exacerbated in the aftermath of Black Saturday. Retracted accounts of violence and responses to it indicate that much remains hidden, as women continue to fear repercussions from both the community and violent partners.


In disasters and their aftermath, women are affected differently and in many cases more severely than men. Increased violence against women is a documented characteristic of the post-disaster period. Where researchers have noted this link, they have attributed the increase to heightened stress, alcohol abuse and lapses in constraints to behaviour offered by legal and societal expectations.

Although Australians have a one in six estimated lifetime exposure to natural disaster, there appears to be little research into the gendered impacts of disaster and no published research to date on the link between disaster and violence against women in this country. It seems that the long-standing taboo in relation to domestic violence is taken to a new level where perpetrators may have been 'heroes' in the fires, where stress levels are high and where men are often unemployed and sometimes suicidal. The ever-present willingness to overlook violence against women appears to be exacerbated in post-disaster circumstances where the resources of support services are over-burdened with primary and fire-related needs.

View a presentation of findings from The Way He Tells It: Relationships after Black Saturday.

Deb Parkinson and Clare Zara present the findings from their report The Way He Tells It to emergency services workers, goverment employees, health professionals and community members in the Hume region.

For a transcript of the above presentation click here.

View Dr Elaine Enarson's presentation to emergency service managers on Gender and Disaster.

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Family Violence and Disaster Postcard - You can help in 4 steps

fv and disaster postcard for website 

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In Conversation:Family Violence Post-Disaster

Podsocs are pod-casts for social workers 'on the run' covering topics of interest for all human services practitioners, students and academics. In 2013, Dr Patricia Fronek from Griffith University interviewed Deb Parkinson for a podsoc on family violence post-disaster.

You can listen here.

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The Age

Ashes to ashes: forgotten fire town mourns again

Chris Johnston

May 19, 2012

Bush Telegraph

Natural disasters increase violence against women

Keiren McLeonard

Thursday, 8 March, 2012

Diamond Valley Leader

SPECIAL REPORT: Silent scars of bushfire women

Raelene Wilson

7 March, 2012 @ 05:00 am

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