Adequately addressing the ‘gender agenda’ and links to climate change

14th January 2016

What are greenhouse gas emissions to do with the persisting inequalities between men and women, and why should these two issues be discussed together? At first, the idea seemed confusing or even laughable to many people concerned with climate change – many of them scientists and engineers more familiar with the laws of nature and physics than with the politics of society. The challenge of social inequalities on the one hand and climate change on the other were long seen as separate, but there is now growing recognition that they share common roots and, therefore, solutions.

Blog size - Female and male farmer - Fintrac Inc, USAID

A new online guide introduces key issues and materials

A new, updated Gender and Climate Change Key Issues Guide by the Institute of Development Studies explains how linkages with gender inequality have emerged and been treated in climate change policy and action, and introduces key resources. It talks about how, over the years, civil society organisations and researchers have highlighted that both the causes and consequences of climate change are indeed very social and political, and that inequalities between men and women in e.g. income, education, representation, etc., are issues to consider in this context.

Gender has effects on climate change impacts

One key issue discussed in the guide, for example, is the way climate change affects people differently, and how to address that. As weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable and extreme events such as floods, heat waves or storms become more common, the way in which people are affected depends strongly on their position in society, their assets, education, social networks, etc. All of these are also governed by the social norms, expectations and behaviours by and towards men and women. This needs to be understood and acted on in efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Among other materials, the Key Issues Guide points readers to useful tools for practitioners.

Diverging goals behind the ‘gender agenda’

The role of gender has become more recognized in the climate arena; however, the Paris agreement (COP21) in December has led to disappointment as there is no operative provision for human rights or gender equality noted in the final agreement (both were included in earlier drafts but later removed due to pressure from certain countries). But it is important that the gender equality question is no longer about whether the issue merits attention, but much more about what it is all about and how it needs to be addressed. The ‘gender agenda’ is not one united agenda but, in fact, driven by very different interests and values. The guide introduces the different perspectives.

Integrating women in the economy – or changing the economy altogether?

There are those who seek to better integrate women – and the climate – in the existing economic model - for example, by supporting women to be more involved in developing and using green technologies. They see gender equality as something that needs to happen for the green economy to truly flourish, and so that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to climate change are efficient and impactful, taking into account everyone’s perspectives and needs.

And on the other hand, there are those who think that the ‘twin challenges’ (of gender inequality and unsustainable development, including climate change, call for a fundamental rethink of the economy altogether. So, on closer inspection, the divides in the gender and climate change ultimately come down to a deeper ideological battle on the very development model based upon which climate change is addressed. The new Key Issues Guide on gender and climate change provides a snapshot of where the debate is now. But this is surely a space to watch as the conversation evolves.

Image source: Fintrac Inc, USAID | Flickr