Climate Change

Climate, Women, and Health: Using Data to Build Trust

Disha Shetty | July 2022


Listening to communities and using data and research can build trust in reporting on how climate change is affecting women's health.

“Climate, Women and Health: Using Data to Build Trust” written by Disha Shetty and delivered as a “lightning talk” for the Stanley Center for Peace and Security as part of the East-West Center’s International Media Conference “Connecting in a Zero Trust World” on June 29, 2022, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Good evening everyone. Firstly, thank you to the Stanley Center for Peace and Security for having me give this talk today. I am Disha Shetty, a reporter with the Fuller Project, a global newsroom that covers women. I am based in India and write on climate and health issues, and often their intersections. Issues that are hugely important for peace and security.

As I think about our theme for this mixer, “Trust and Truth in Reporting on Threats to Global Peace and Security,” two things come to my mind that I would like to take you through:

  1. Listening to communities.
  2. Using data and scientific research to back their lived experiences. 

I will try to explain my points through two reporting experiences.

At The Fuller Project this week I wrote about how heat waves disproportionately affect women. As some of you might be aware, my region saw record-breaking temperatures this summer.

While reporting, I met Aliya Shakir Sheikh in a Mumbai slum, Shivaji Nagar. When I met Aliya, she had a three-day-old newborn and a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler. This summer Aliya was pregnant. I asked her how the heat had affected her.

“I would feel anxious all the time,” she said. “This did not happen during my first pregnancy.”

Now, I’ve covered climate change for a few years, with a focus on its public health impacts. My first instinct was to keep asking her if she felt dehydrated or it affected her work. Later, when I heard the recording again, I thought to myself, let me look up the scientific research on this.

So on Google Scholar I typed: “heat waves, anxiety, links.” And there it was. A study from Australia that documented the link.

Aliya, a semiliterate woman who doesn’t step out of her home because she has an abusive husband who won’t let her, was telling me a crucial story. Heat waves push up rates of anxiety in pregnant women. And I, with my overconfidence, could have easily dismissed her very accurate testimony because I was skeptical.

It was a reminder for me once again to listen to communities. To trust. To verify facts, yes, but to also trust lived experiences. Follow up with experts to make sense of what the common themes are that are coming out from the communities. But once again, that trust goes two ways, and to build trust I have to learn to trust and listen.

This is a theme that has come up over and over again as I covered climate change in India over the past few years in geographical areas for which there was little evidence.

“Baarish pehle jaisi nahi rahi,” farmers tell me—the rainfall isn’t like before. Scientists confirm that climate change has made rainfall more erratic in India.

“Pehle toh yaha bohot phal ho jaate the, ab toh kuch nahi hote,” farmers in the Himalayas tell me. Scientists confirmed to me that habitats are indeed moving upward in the Himalayan region because of warming.

This organically brings me to the second part of my talk: using data and scientific research to empower the communities and stories coming out of them.

I would use another example here.

Air pollution is a huge problem in my part of the world. The Indo-Gangetic plain spanning Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh has some of the world’s most-polluted cities. In study after study, I would find some of these details: air pollution increases rates of miscarriages. Air pollution increases pregnancy complications. Air pollution is linked to stillbirths.

Air pollution can cause stillbirths. Why aren’t people out protesting? If there’s one thing people care about, I’ve learned in my reporting, it is babies. Maternal health gets the attention it does, not because it concerns women but because it concerns the child.

People aren’t out protesting? Because a lot of these details ends up becoming a footnote. When we published this piece in collaboration with Scroll, I heard back from mothers who said this was something they were concerned about as they planned their pregnancy but there wasn’t much written about it.

Now, this wasn’t because there wasn’t any evidence about it. Which brings me to my crucial point: data can be used to give a community voice or invisibilize it.

At Fuller we cover women; other publications might have other niche areas. While there are still intersections where data is missing—for instance, climate and caste—there are areas in which data is evolving, like climate and health, climate and women, as well as gender minorities.

So to sum up, my learning about the ways we can build trust and truth in reporting on threats to global peace and security are listening to our communities and using data to empower their testimony.


Disha Shetty is a Staff Reporter for The Fuller Project.

IMAGE: Shankar Menon for The Fuller Project.