Streamlining Climate Change and Gender

Gender Equality

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Hannan, (2002) and Briceño (2005)
Climate and Gender

The United Nations is formally committed to gender mainstreaming within all policies and programs. However, gender equality is not yet realized in any society or part of the world. Gender differences are observed in every stratum of social institutions ranging from the family to religious groups or caste systems; political and legal structures; economic and educational institutions; and the mass media. All are permeated with norms and values which inform the economic, social, institutional, and legal constraints which affect women and men’s rights to own land, control resources, access technology and education, and thereby also influence the attitudes, contributions, impacts, and individual potential to adapt to climate change.

A number of issues signal the crucial role of gender in understanding the causes of climate change, efforts to mitigate it, and working towards successful adaptation to inevitable climate variability and change[1]:

1.        Women and men– in their respective social roles – are differently affected by the effects of climate change and variability;

2.        Similarly, women and men – in their respective social roles – are differently affected by climate protection instruments and measures;

3.        Women and men differ with regard to their respective perceptions of and reactions to climate change and variability;

4.        Women’s and men’s contributions to climate change and variability differ, especially in their respective CO2 emissions;

5.        Climate protection measures often fail to take into account the needs of large numbers of poor, women, children and elderly members of society, in terms of infrastructure, energy supply, etc;

6.        The participation of women in decision-making is very low in climate policy and its implementation in instruments and measures.


The articulation of a functional relationship between gender and climate change is one of the most pressing challenges to effective adaptation and mitigation.  This requires, a new paradigm for advancing gender equity in climate change dialogue, action, and policy. The intent of the chapter and working group is to summarize, and expand upon, the gender-climate dialogue, while making recommendations on how to mainstream gender into climate-related processes and decision-making.


Shifting the Gender-Climate Paradigm

Although the “climate and gender” discourse is often focused solely on women’s roles, impacts, and rights, women are only half of the gender-climate dialogue, gender analysis must also explicitly target and include men, and mainstreaming in climate must address gender relations in terms of power structures and power distribution that cause imbalance, marginalization, suffering and conflict. Risk associated with climate change and variability is, in part, determined by nature but also contingent on economic, cultural, and social relationships[2].

It is important to avoid a simplistic portrayal of women, children, the elderly or the poor as victims. Women are not vulnerable because they are "naturally weaker": women and men face different vulnerabilities due to gender roles, which for many women impose conditions of social exclusion. For example, in many Asian and Latin American countries, skills such as swimming and tree climbing are taught mainly to boys; these skills help them survive and cope better during floods.  Furthermore, dress codes can restrict women’s ability to move quickly, while behavioral restrictions can hinder ability to re-locate without a husband’s, father’s or brother’s consent. Conversely, women are often the primary source of food and medicine gathering and other basic life sustaining skills in situations of extreme deprivation-a skill-set which is often overlooked when not actively recognized as a knowledge resource.

Due to climate change and variability, traditional, socially-based roles and responsibilities, as well as, learned skills result in differences in self-rescue, adaptation and mitigation strategies, and opportunities[3].  The absence of attention to gendered knowledge, skills, gender-differentiated perceptions, and analyses reduce the range of technological and social options in climate policy.  

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Vulnerability to specific impacts of climate change will be most severe when and where they are felt together with stresses from other sources“ (IPCC, 2007). These “non-climatic stresses” include variables such as poverty, resource allocation, access to education, disaster risks, and workload.[4]  Women represent 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion poor and inequitably carry the stress of poverty and, subsequently, vulnerability to climate change impacts. Through gender-climate justice, equitable policy development and on-the-ground action we can avoid leading “already marginalized sections of communities into further deprivation.”[5] Policy development must embrace gender-specific components of development, analysis, facilitation, and monitoring.

Women are often more adversely affected by climate change where gender discrimination is more widespread before the onset of disaster events.[6]  Existing discriminatory biases tend to be reinforced and exacerbated in post disaster periods. Inequities often take the form of access to climatic information or warning systems. Education and public awareness is important to understand the causes, effects and measures to slow down or reverse negative effects on the environment, and also plays a critical role in building capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change: as literacy levels increase, vulnerability to climate change and variability decreases.  Lower literacy levels of women compared to men, particularly in rural areas, must be addressed through appropriate, gendered education. 


The Gendered Impacts of Climate Change and Variability

Climate change and variability threaten to significantly undermine efforts towards achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those related to eliminating poverty and hunger and promoting environmental sustainability[7]. The IPCC has predicted that “climate change impacts will be differently distributed among different regions, generations, age classes, income groups, occupations and genders” and that “the poor, primarily but by no means exclusively in developing countries, will be disproportionately affected.” Gender inequalities are directly linked with poverty,[8] and the vulnerability of poor men and women to climate change and variability will aggravate inequities in health and access to food, clean water, and other resources.  These diverse impacts include:


Energy production and demand are closely linked to mitigation of climate change and variability.  Furthermore, a lot is known about energy from a women’s perspective in developing countries: the lack of access to energy; the need for affordable energy supporting women’s income generating activities; the high number of victims of indoor air pollution and the need to replace inefficient biomass stoves; the physical burden of collecting firewood and the impacts on women’s time; and so on[9]; Gender aspects in the energy sphere have been insufficiently studied in industrialized countries, compared to developing countries.  Greater attention to the energy needs, concerns and ideas of women in developing countries can improve the effectiveness of energy policies and projects, and also promote overall development goals such as poverty alleviation, increased employment, and improved health and education levels. (UNDP, 2000). Furthermore, women and men’s energy consumption differ in the amount and the purposes of energy use, as well as in their attitudes towards energy saving measures and mechanisms. These disparities need to be taken into account when developing energy strategies at all levels.


Nuclear energy is discussed as a solution for climate change and variability mitigation, despite the known hazards of negative consequences on the environment, human health, and future generations. Studies from all over the world show gender differences in perceptions of nuclear energy use: men are much more in favor, while the majority of women reject it. There is a generally higher risk perception among women, due to the health impacts of radiation, but also due to unresolved problems such as nuclear waste storage, uranium mining and nuclear power plants as targets for terrorist attacks.


Bioenergy: There are many risks associated with bioenergy – environmental, economic and social – as well as potential opportunities. Understanding and managing these risks in a gender-sensitive way is fundamental to ensure that the opportunities presented by bioenergy benefit both men and women. There is concern that the promotion of international biofuel markets based on first-generation feedstock, with the associated environmental and social risks, will overshadow the potential of community-scale biofuel futures - and the associated empowerment of women.


Water: Climate change and variability is already exacerbating existing shortages of water. Women, largely responsible for water collection in their communities, are more sensitive to the changes in seasons and climatic conditions that affect water quantity and accessibility that make its collection even more time-consuming.[10]. The World Health Organization estimates that the energy used to carry water may consume one-third of a woman’s daily calorie intake. In areas where water is in particularly short supply, calorie use may be even greater, compounding the risk of malnutrition in resource-poor settings. As more work is required of women to supply water from more distant sources, in many parts of the world girls miss school in order to help meet family water needs. The use of water for irrigation is in many societies highly gendered, as can be the sectoral use of water resources, as well as the decision-making required to sustainably manage water systems in the context of multi-sectoral, often transboundary and conflicting demands for freshwater and marine resources.


Agriculture: Climate change and variability is reducing crop yields and food production particularly in developing countries, thus affecting women’s livelihood strategies and food security, and therefore their right to food.[11] Some researchers note that climate change and variability can result in a 10-fold increase in the number of hungry and malnourished people, “consequently, women are likely to experience a decrease in nutritional health, as they are often the first to go hungry in an attempt to protect their families.”[12]


Use and harvesting of living resources: In many cultures, men have primary responsibilities concerning livestock farming, fishing, and animal husbandry.  Subsequently, changes in fishing yields and livestock survival/health rates due to climate change and variability lead to shifts in the gender power balance of families and communities. 


Forestry: Men and women often have different roles with regard to forest resource management in planting, protecting or caring for seedlings and small trees, as well as in planting and maintaining homestead woodlots and plantations on public lands. Men are more likely to be involved in extracting timber; Women typically gather non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for commercial purposes and to improve living conditions within their households, e.g. medicines, fodder for livestock, etc. Due to climate change and variability, these roles and the respective workload burdens and/or income generation capabilities create uncertainty in communities.


Disasters / extreme weather events: Gender roles often place women and men in locations that influence their vulnerability to hazards or climate change and variability risks[13]. Women's traditional roles (looking after children and the elderly) and cultural restrictions may hamper their self-rescue efforts in almost any type of disaster[14]. Dress codes can restrict women’s ability to move quickly[15] or in flooding conditions. In addition, due to capacities that differ between men and women, gender-based life skills and experiences, women and men may use completely different resources in the same environmental context, or they may use the same resources in different ways[16].


Health: Gender is an important social determinant of health. The gender division of labor within the household, and labor market segregation by sex into predominantly male and female jobs, expose men and women to varying health risks. For example, in rural Bangladesh, the responsibility for cooking exposes women and girls to smoke inhalation from cooking fuels, etc. Patriarchal norms denying women the right to make decisions regarding their sexuality and reproduction expose them to avoidable risks of morbidity and mortality, which can be exacerbated in a climate change and variability regime. (Martens et al. 1999[17]).


Natural resource use and management: Women and men have different socially or culturally defined roles[18]. In many developing countries women remain predominantly responsible for food production, water and firewood collection. Due to climate change and variability, issues of availability, access and quality of these resources are greatly affected causing significant shifts in the tasks and dependence on local natural resources, often resulting in an increase in women’s domestic burdens (collection of water, fuel and fodder) –Women’s initiative and resourcefulness in finding sustainable alternatives will be key to adaptation in coping with scarcity of traditional resources.


Migration: Women (and children) refugees of disasters or conflicts caused by scarcity of resources are exposed to increased risks compared to male refugees, be it in refugee camps, resettlement areas, or countries where displaced people may seek asylum.  Women and girls, in particular, are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Migration may be one response of people whose livelihoods are affected by climate change and variability. Climate may not be the sole, or even the most important ‘push’ factor in migration decisions, but in combination with other social, economic and political factors, climate shocks can become a trigger.


Gender and Climate Leadership

Gender aspects of climate change and variability relate to justice, human rights, and human security. For many years gender issues have been discussed in UNFCCC conferences, but progress in integrating gender into the negotiations is slow. During the 8th Commission on the Status of Women, a diverse panel of experts cited numerous studies showing that climate change is not a gender-neutral process. Governance structures determine the ways in which adaptation capacity can be utilized. Representation of women at all levels of governance is essential. Yet today very few women are in decision-making positions in energy and climate-related fields[19].  As a result women’s experience and knowledge are not properly incorporated into negotiations, plans and strategies on climate change at all levels.


Major advocacy and education campaigns are needed. Gender-specific information and analysis for use in policy and high level planning as well as for immediate use on-the-ground are a high priority.  Furthermore,  gender mainstreaming studies should be supported with the maximum efforts of the UN and its agencies, in collaboration with governments and civil society organizations. Gender assessment and analysis should be driven by ground-identified needs and priorities and explicitly prioritize use of local knowledge and its practitioners.


[1] Roehr and Hemmati, 2008

[2]  Hannan (2002)

[3] Neumayer and  Plümperw (2007)

[4] IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group II Report "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", 2007, available at

[5] Denton, Fatma Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts, and Adaptation: Why Does Gender Matter? , Gender and Development, Vol. 10, No. 2, Climate Change (Jul., 2002), pp. 10-20   (article consists of 11 pages)

[6] Dre`ze and Sen (1989); Bolin et al. (1998).


[8] World Bank World Development Report (2008); Holmes and Slater (2008)

[9] Hemmati, Roehr 2007 (Women’s Environment Magazine)

[10] CIDA (2007)

[11] “Gender Aspects Of Climate Change”, a joint contributions by the ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, LIFE/Women in Europe for a Common Future (LIFE/WECF), IUCN-The World Conservation Union, and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), in consultation with women’s organizations throughout the world. Available at

[12] “Global Climate change and women’s health”, Women and Environments International Magazine, N74/75-Spring/Summer 2007, pp.10-11

[13] Enarson (2004)

[14] Beinin (1981); Schwoebel and Menon (2004); Oxfam International (2005)

[15] Neumayer and Plümperw (2007)

[16] Hannan (2002)

[17] Martens P, Kovats R S, Nijhof S, de Vries P, Livermore M T J, Bradley D J, Cox J and McMichael A J. 1999. Climate change and future populations at risk of malaria. Global Environmental Change. 9: pp. S89 –S107.

[18] Hannan, (2002) and Briceño (2005)

[19] “Causing, Mitigating, and Adapting to Climate Change:

Does It Make a Difference If You’re a Woman or a Man?” available at