Gendering Climate Change

Is climate change a social issue? This is the first post in a series to look at the possible links between a social issue and climate change (more on labour, human rights, health and others to come).

States are slowly recognizing that the impacts of climate change are not gender neutral. The solutions to climate change, even, could benefit from the experiences and resiliencies women have developed as the climate shifts us toward a warmer, more volatile world. While a group of NGOs continues to document the gendered disparities on the ground, the COP has taken a more traditional, and some argue, insufficient approach to addressing gender.

The effects of climate change are unequivocal, according to the latest scientific consensus in the IPCC, and gendered. Women often are in vulnerable positions in society, relying on largely informal and unpaid work to support their families. The vulnerabilities introduced by a changing climate, such as droughts, floods, displacement, and natural disasters multiply the risks faced by women.

In small-scale agriculture, women’s work tends to be unpaid, yet is primarily responsible for ensuring healthy and sufficient meals for their family. Agriculture’s heavy dependence on a water resources and predictable climate patterns means climate change threatens crop yields and, in turn, food security. Women relying on agriculture for their daily livelihoods face a multiplying, and daunting, challenge that is out of their ability to control.

During natural disasters, women’s place on the margins of society becomes more precarious as law, order, and food supplies break down. Women are 14 times more likely to die in natural disasters than men, because it seems “natural” that women stay with the home, even when a cyclone draws near, and because of a lack of healthcare. In displacement camps, there is an escalation of violence against women and girls. As natural disasters become more intense because of climate change, women potentially face prospects of a more precarious existence.

As some states start to slowly rise to the challenge of mitigating emissions, gendered differences are also discernable among genders. Here, the evidence is slower to emerge. Mitigation financing in the developing world tends to support large-scale infrastructure and industrial energy efficiency projects. Thus far, there is a lack of information on how these types of projects impact men and women or consider gender in their design. There are some lessons to be learned from projects in Colombia, Mali, and Nepal that considered ways to bring women into climate change mitigation efforts.

Other responses to increase the voice of women in mitigation are starting to emerge. These include the Women’s Carbon Standard (now called the W+ Standard), the Environment and Gender Index, and a REDD+ checklist to help mainstream gender into social and environmental standards. These tools seek to include women as agents of change in the global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effect already apparent and expected in the future.

At the highest level, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), gender disparities are also evident. Female delegates are a minority and a woman on an executive body is an even rarer sight. The approach thus far adopted by the parties in decision 23/CP.18 in Doha in 2012 is to count the number of women involved. We tend to like things quantified. The numbers give us a sense of accomplishment, both in their production and if they slowly start to signal improvement.The hope seems to be that by adding women and stirring them in to the decision making process, gender inequalities evident in climate mitigation efforts will somehow disappear. Many question this assumption, pointing to the deep-rooted nature of patriarchal structures that the mere presence of women cannot vanquish. At the in-session workshop on gender and climate change, there were several calls for a more nuanced approach, yet the draft conclusions indicate little concrete uptake or further action in this direction.

Gender and climate change seem linked. Yet, they are causally distinct. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions will not solve gender inequalities and, likewise, reducing gendered stereotypes and discrimination will not solve the climate crisis. This seems to be a downstream effect of two powerful, but different, trends – climate change and gender inequality – meeting and amplifying the effects of one another.