Climate change

Gender and climate change

The case for gender equality in climate change policy is shifting towards a more rights based approach.

Women wearing the masks of G8 leaders join climate change protest in Dhaka. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Edited by Alan Stanley
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The way in which climate changes affect people is highly dependent on their position in society and, therefore, also on their gender.  The Sustainable Development Goals recognise this link -between global social inequality, gender inequality and climate change - and there is growing recognition that they share common roots and, therefore, solutions. As a result the momentum for mainstreaming gender equality in climate change policy, research and practice has been growing for some time. But there has been a noticeable shift in emphasis over time which is resulting in some interesting tensions.

The case for gender equality in the climate change context (and beyond) is being built along a continuum from a more instrumentalist to more rights based approach. Instrumentalism, on the one hand, promotes gender equality for the sake of an ulterior purpose, such as social, financial, or environmental benefits. It describes women and girls as an “untapped resource” in the global response to climate change. The rights based approach, on the other hand, describes instrumentalism as exploitative and insists on the importance of pursuing women’s rights and gender equality as a goal in its own right - no matter the cost or co-benefits of doing so. Feminist advocates for gender and climate justice call for deeper more fundamental changes to the development model, and indeed society more broadly, that the instrumentalist approach is based on. 

This Guide explores some of these ongoing debates and highlights some key resources for those of you that might wish to delve a bit deeper into the topic. In looks at women’s leadership and empowerment - a key element of bringing gender equality into the global response to climate change - and examines progress on gender in climate policy and finance mechanisms. But let’s start by looking at how the discourse on gender has influenced responses to climate change impacts.

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Agnes Otzelberger 

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Beyond the “vulnerable and the virtuous”

Climate vulnerability and risk depend not only on how serious a climate hazard is (drought, flood etc.) but very strongly on the livelihood assets, social networks, skills, knowledge, and position in society, of the people affected by that hazard.  As a result the levels of hardship resulting from climate change can be highly variable across different populations, and gender inequality is one key factor in this - alongside other inequalities on the basis of ethnicity, age, race, caste, religion, etc.

In recent years, a narrative has emerged that “women are more vulnerable to climate change than men”. This builds on the growing evidence of how discrimination against women in areas such as law, social rules and behaviours and the prevailing levels of gender-based violence have deep repercussions for women’s and girl’s lives in the face of climatic shifts and disasters. It's a compelling narrative that has certainly led to the targeting of women as a strategy to achieve change, often with positive results for the women involved. 

The risk behind these statements, however, has been the portrayal of women as one homogenous group – “vulnerable and virtuous” at once, as Seema Arora-Jonsson put it. By failing to involve men and boys, these strategies have not necessarily addressed the root causes of inequality and have frequently built on generalised stereotypes. For example, assumptions that women generally are disempowered, or that they have particularly well-meaning attitudes toward family, community and the environment.

Gender Inclusive Research: Why and How

Three reasons why agricultural research should be gender inclusive, and three ways to do it. A six-minute animation created by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in collaboration with ICESI University (Colombia).

Addressing the underlying social power relations and structures that produce inequality requires not only working with women but also with men, not just empowering women and girls in isolation but also working with people in powerful positions to change laws and challenge dominant social norms. In other words it requires addressing attitudes and behaviours across all of society. Let's take as an example the disproportionate role played by women in providing unpaid care work. If women’s empowerment to address climate change only means increasing their participation in the public domain and formal economy, without rethinking the distribution and recognising the value of unpaid care work, 'women’s empowerment' can quickly become 'overburdening women'.

Most available case study evidence on gender and climate change deals with these 'classic' gender analysis issues in more or less detail. But this idea of a 'gender-transformative approach' is only beginning to take hold specifically in climate change programming - which brings with it a range of new aspects and practices whose gender dimensions are not yet well understood. Only a few tools and studies to date have been designed specifically to address these challenging new aspects of climate change but very good examples such as the Pacific Gender and Climate Change toolkit and Gender and inclusion toolbox show progress is being made in this area. 


No accident: Resilience and the inequality of risk
Oxfam, 2013
Oxfam report examining the uneven distribution of climate change related risk and vulnerability impacting poor and vulnerable populations. The title of this report - No Accident - reflects the key message underlying the report: that climate related risk disproportionately impacts the most poor and vulnerable not due to inherent characteristics of climate change itself, but due to structural inequalities that are the result of policies and actions implemented by national and international elites and institutions.
Women, girls and disasters: a review for DFID
Department for International Development, UK, 2013
This review sets out evidence of the impact that disasters have on women, adolescent girls and girls. It identifies initiatives and investments that have been developed to address or mitigate these but identifies a number of gaps in response and makes recommendations for addressing them. The report argues there is a need to embed a gendered humanitarian response within existing development initiatives.
Making Sense of Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa
Future Agricultures Consortium, 2013
Full title: Making Sense of Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: Creating Gender-Responsive Climate Adaptation Policy Christine Okali and Lars Otto NaessMay 2013 Attention to gender and climate change has increased steadily over the last decade. Much of the emerging policy-focused literature resembles to a considerable degree the gender and environment literature from the 1990s, with the nature of women’s work being used to justify placing women at the centre of climate change policy.
Virtue and vulnerability: Discourses on women, gender and climate change
Elsevier, 2011
In the limited literature on gender and climate change, two themes predominate – women as vulnerable or virtuous in relation to the environment. Two viewpoints become obvious: women in the South will be affected more by climate change than men in those countries and that men in the North pollute more than women. The debates are structured in specific ways in the North and the South and the discussion in the article focuses largely on examples from Sweden and India.
Sustainable economy and green growth: who cares?
Genanet, 2013
Outcome document from genanet's two day international workshop on the intersection of care and the Green Economy. Supported by the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety, Genanet recently hosted a two day international workshop entitled ‘Green Economy and Green Growth - Who Cares?’.
Community Resilience at Scale: Grassroots Women Demonstrating Successful Practices
Huairou Commission, 2015
Long before it became a buzzword, grassroots women have been doing what is now called resilience. Living and working in areas of poverty and marginalized from decision-making processes, women have been addressing water and sanitation issues, upgrading infrastructure, and seeking sustainable energy source because conditions of the built environment directly affect their ability to improve their lives and their families. Similarly, in rural areas, grassroots women have been developing seed banks, rotating crops and organising to build a collective asset base.
CARE gender toolkit
CARE International, 2016
Gender and power analysis form a foundation from which to contribute toward a just and sustainable impact toward gender equality. This site by CARE International presents options and reflections on the analysis of gender and power. This is no 'how-to' guide, but a toolbox of methods with discussion on tried successes, struggles and lessons on gender analysis.Featured Sections include:The Women's Empowerment Impact Measurement Initiative (WEIMI) Guide.CARE's Good Practices Framework for Gender Analysis.Frequently Asked Questions.Video Tutorials.
Pacific Gender and Climate Change toolkit: Tools for practitioners
Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, 2013
This toolkit is designed to support climate change practitioners in the Pacific islands region to integrate gender into their programmes and projects. It is aimed at climate change professionals working in national governments, non-governmental organisations, regional and international organisations who are involved in managing and implementing climate change programmes. The toolkit is split into three modules: the introductory section explains why gender is a critical consideration in climate change programmes, projects and strategies, and clarifies some common misconceptions.
Gender and inclusion toolbox: participatory research in climate change and agriculture
Climate Change Agriculture Food Security, 2016
This manual introduces a wide range of participatory strategies and tools for research to guide the implementation of climate smart agriculture and efforts to achieve food security in rural communities. It is intended for NGO practitioners and program designers interested in diagnostic and action research for gender sensitive and socially inclusive climate change programs.The manual provides users with an introductory section that defines basic concepts of gender, climate change, vulnerability, adaptive capacity and  participatory action research.

Progress on gender in climate change policies

So as the discourse on gender and climate change moves forward how is this translating into policy changes?

The short answer is that it is a very mixed picture. The international climate change policy and financing architecture, under the overarching frame work of the UNFCCC, is vast, complex and constantly shifting as new agreements and mechanisms come into being, or existing ones are amended.

Like all negotiation items in the UNFCCC, gender and other social questions often fall victim to trade-offs in the countdown toward a universal UN agreement so staying on top of negotiations is a time-intensive race against time. Several organisations have dedicated staff focusing entirely on this policy process and its related mechanisms, and produce useful guidance as a result - see for example the regular updates by the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO).

The good news, though, is that persistent lobbying by gender and climate change advocates has led to some positive shifts in global climate change policy and financing mechanisms in recent years. After being sidelined for many years,  gender equality is now a standing agenda item in the UNFCCC, receiving dedicated airtime in each round of negotiations.

In March 2015, the Green Climate Fund - the most significant global effort to pool and disburse finance for action on climate change - was the first to adopt a gender policy and action plan prior to initiating spending. This is remarkable, given that all other global climate financing institutions to date had to ‘retrofit’ their setup and funding criteria and process to reflect gender principles. 

Things are also progressing at national levels where, especially in low and middle income countries, the number of policies and action plans on gender and climate change is growing. IUCD’s Gender & Climate Change Action Plan (ccGAP) initiative is one critical effort to reduce the 'implementation gap' between ambitious policies on the one hand and often poor real outcomes on the other, and their 2013 report features the action plans developed by eleven countries, from Haiti to Nepal.

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Gender policy and action
, 2015
Document proposing a gender policy and gender action plan for the Green Climate Fund, 2015-2017. This outcome document came out of a meeting of the board of the Green Climate Fund. It opens with an introduction, tracing the route by which the gender policy and action plan was requested, and linking it with other official documentation.
The art of implementation: gender strategies transforming national and regional climate change decision making
World Conservation Union, 2012
This publication shares IUCN’s experiences in developing gender-responsive national strategies and roadmaps on climate change. It outlines the steps and elements of creating a ccGAP (climate change gender action plans) or REDD+ roadmap then goes on to explore some of the principles behind the strategies and what has worked best. There are also stories from each country: ccGAPs (Nepal, Liberia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Jordan, Egypt, Arab League of States regional process, Central America regional process, Panama, Cosa Rica, Haiti; for Gender and REDD+ roadmaps (Ghana Uganda, Cameroon).
A Fair Climate: Gender Equity in Forestry and REDD+ Discussion Guide
Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific, 2014
Discussion guide to be used by facilitators alongside a training video, concerning gender equity in forest management contexts. The training video which highlights and emphasises the importance of gender equality in all levels of decision-making, process design, and practice for forest-based climate change mitigation. Shot in Vientiane in Lao PDR and the Baan Thung Yao community forest in Thailand, the video captures grassroots communities institutional knowledge of and experience with gender equity as it relates to forest governance, and its integration into forest management practices.
Climate justice and women’s rights: a guide to supporting grassroots women’s action
Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, 2015
This guide aims to increase timely and appropriate funding for worldwide climate action initiatives led by women and their communities. It highlights that women are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by climate change but that most funders lack adequate programs or systems to support grassroots women and their climate change solutions.
Loss and Damage in a warmer world: whither gender matters? Gender perspectives on the Loss and Damage debate
Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative, 2012
Is the gender dimension adequately embedded in the loss and damage agenda? Many vulnerable countries will have to deal with unavoidable residual impacts of climate change which will result in loss and damage to men and women.