Gender and climate change

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The world’s poor are disproportionately affected by climate change and natural disasters. Climate change affects women and men differently. Women and girls face particular vulnerabilities resulting from cultural norms and their lower socioeconomic status in society. Women’s domestic roles often make them disproportionate users of natural resources such as water, firewood and forest products. As these resources become scarcer, women experience an increased work burden and may fall further into poverty as a result. Increasing population growth puts further pressure on resources. Natural disasters also have gendered implications, killing more women than men. This trend is more pronounced the stronger the disaster (Neumayer and Plumper 2007). Despite the vulnerabilities experienced by women and girls, they are often unable to voice their specific needs. The exclusion of women’s voices also means that their extensive knowledge of the environment and resource conservation is untapped.

Women and men are not helpless victims of climate change, but use various methods and strategies to adapt to climate change. It is increasingly recognised that empowering women, children and other marginalised groups is beneficial not only as a policy in itself, but also as a means of strengthening the effectiveness of climate change measures. Often, strategies that are adopted are related to the social norms concerning what is acceptable for men and women.

There is evidence that since women in developing countries have primary responsibility of providing for their families, they are more reliant on natural resources and are thus more careful stewards of them and the environment. They have been engaging in various efforts that qualify as climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. While some argue that climate change worsens gender inequality as women and girls are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change, others argue that climate change offers opportunities to tap into women’s traditional roles as carers of natural resources and link them with paid employment.

Skinner, E. (2011). ‘Gender and Climate Change: Overview Report’, BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Climate Change, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
This report argues that gender transformation is both an important condition and a potential end goal of effective climate change responses and poverty reduction. It highlights the need to put people at the centre of climate change responses, and to pay particular attention to the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents in the struggle for gender equality.

Neumayer, E. and Plumper, T. (2007). ‘The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002’, in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97(3), 2007, pp. 551–566
This article examines the vulnerability of girls and women to dying from natural disasters and their aftermath. Looking at the effects of natural disasters in 141 countries over the period 1981 to 2002, the study shows that in societies where the socioeconomic status of women is low, natural disasters kill more women than men, both directly and indirectly via related post-disaster events. They also kill women at a younger age than men. The reason for the difference in mortality lies largely in the socioeconomic status of women.

Alston, M. (2013). Gender Mainstreaming and Climate Change. In Women’s Studies International Forum. Pergamon.
Emerging research indicates that climate change has significant gendered impacts, yet policies and practices for mitigation and adaptation strategies have failed to incorporate gender mainstreaming. The scientific and technological focus of many responses has a lack of attention to social outcomes, and specifically the differing impacts on vulnerable groups. This paper takes an in-depth look at gender mainstreaming, its history and manifestations and discusses ways that it might create the space for transformative change in gender power relations in post-disaster situations. There is an urgent need for gender mainstreaming to be part of the appraisal of all actions in post-disaster work but also a danger that the limited understanding of this concept or its uncritical application will result in technocratic exercises rather than genuine gender assessment.
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Carr, E. R., & Thompson, M. C. (2014). Gender and Climate Change Adaptation in Agrarian Settings: Current Thinking, New Directions, and Research Frontiers. Geography Compass, 8(3), 182-197.
This paper argues that a binary construction of gender (women vs men) is likely to overlook the most important challenges of agrarian populations, and may increase vulnerability rather than reduce it. An emerging climate change adaptation literature takes on a more nuanced intersectional approach to gender, making conceptual, methodological, and empirical arguments against assessing through binary gender categories. Efforts to adopt intersectional gender analyses face two challenges: First, convincing analysts of the value of this theoretical shift will require a rigorous empirical base of evidence for who is overlooked by binary gender analysis. Second, facilitating intersectional approaches will require methodological innovations.
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Gendered impacts of climate change

Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change depends on a number of factors including gender, age, socioeconomic status, caste and disability. Poor individuals, those with disabilities and those belonging to particular caste groups are more vulnerable to climate change impacts as their coping strategies may be limited both by social norms and stigma, but also due to issues of mobility, knowledge and lack of money.

It is generally acknowledged that women and girls face a heavier burden of domestic work as a result of resource shortages (food, water and firewood) caused by climate change. They are made to walk longer distances to fetch these resources and may as a result face increased security issues including harassment and sexual violence. Increasing workloads may also result in families withdrawing daughters from schools to help out at home, reducing their future opportunities. Boys may also be taken out of school and sent to earn money to help the family deal with poverty resulting from climate change impacts.

In addition, crop failure as a result of sporadic rainfall may result in the selective malnourishment or starvation of girls and women, especially in cultures where men are used to eating before women and girls. Selective malnourishment of ‘less important’ members of the family can also be used as a strategy to ensure the family’s survival. Women also often face the most negative economic implications of crop failure as they usually have fewer economic resources to fall back on in times of crisis. This also has implications for the health of many women and girls, as malnourishment increases the risk of contracting infections. Further, women and girls’ lower socioeconomic status make it more difficult for them to access and pay for treatment.

The different experiences of men and women regarding climate change has led one analyst to argue that ‘gender transformation is both an important condition and a potential end goal of effective climate change responses and poverty reduction’ (Skinner 2011:13).

Goh, A. H. (2012). A literature review of the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change on women’s and men’s assets and well-being in developing countries (No. 106, p. 38). CAPRi Working Paper.
What are the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change on women and men? With limited evidence from developing countries, this review shows that climate change affects women’s and men’s assets and well-being differently in six impact areas: (i) impacts related to agricultural production, (ii) food security, (iii) health, (iv) water and energy resources, (v) climate-induced migration and conflict, and (vi) climate-related natural disasters. Empirical evidence is limited, patchy, varied, and highly contextual in nature, which makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions. Findings are indicative of the complexities in the field of gender and climate change, and signal that multidisciplinary research is needed.
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Alston, M., & Whittenbury, K. (2013). Research, Action and Policy: Addressing the Gendered Impacts of Climate Change. Springer.
This book addresses the main issues of gender and climate change. The first part looks at gender and climate justice, particularly looking at climate science and its inherent values. The second part interrogates climate policy from a gender perspective. It looks at the need for gender-sensitive climate policy and the gendered impacts of disasters. The next part looks at gendered climate change actions and strategies. The final part takes a geographical perspective to look at gendered impacts by world region.
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Swarup, A., et al. (2011). ‘Weathering the Storm: Adolescent Girls and Climate Change’, Plan International
What impact does climate change have on adolescent girls? This report argues that the double jeopardy brought about by gender and age has been largely ignored in the global debate on climate change. It highlights girls’ need for: 1) greater access to quality education and skills in relation to climate change; 2) greater protection from violence exacerbated by climate shocks; and 3) greater participation in climate change adaptation decision-making and risk reduction activities. It is important to allocate adaptation funding to enable girls to be effective agents of change.

Lambrou, Y. and Nelson, S. (2010). ‘Farmers in a Changing Climate. Does Gender Matter? Food Security in Andhra Pradesh, India’, Food and Agricultural Organization, Rome
This report presents the findings of research undertaken in six villages in two drought-prone districts of Andhra Pradesh. The study used gender, institutional, and climate analyses to document the trends in climate variability men and women farmers are facing, and their responses to ensure food security in the context of larger socio-economic and political challenges to their livelihoods and well-being. The findings confirm that there is a strong gender dimension to the way in which climate variability is experienced and expressed by farmers in their coping strategies. Women’s and men’s perceptions of and responses to impacts of dry conditions, as well as their access to resources and support, differ in important ways. These findings demonstrate that gender analysis enhances our understanding of what farmers perceive as risks and how they respond to climatic changes.
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Climate change mitigation

While climate change poses many challenges, there are also opportunities to be found in adaptation and mitigation. Women in particular are often known to be involved in traditional work that involves limited release of greenhouse gases or that captures emissions that have been released, such as reforestation and conservation of other natural resources. Women’s agency to mitigate climate change is thus still relatively unexplored and untapped. Research suggests that much of women’s work in conservation is not paid. As such, there are untapped avenues for promoting women’s economic participation while counteracting climate change in industries such as agroforestry, resource conservation and energy, in which women are often already engaged.

Bäthge, S. (2010). ‘Climate Change and Gender: Economic Empowerment of Women through Climate Mitigation and Adaptation?’, GTZ Working Papers, GTZ, Eschborn
This paper argues that the economic empowerment of women through climate mitigation and adaptation fosters economic growth and socioeconomic development, reduces poverty, keeps environmental problems in check and increases the potential for adaptation. It requires an integrated approach and institutional and political measures to create the structural conditions necessary for broad-based and sustainable economic empowerment.

Adaptation strategies

Adaptation strategies have traditionally centred on infrastructure-based interventions. However, there has now been a shift towards acknowledging the need for a more development-oriented approach which addresses the underlying causes of vulnerability, such as poverty, lack of education, and gender inequality.

At the individual level, women and men use a range of different strategies to adapt to climate change, many of which are highly gendered. For instance, while men may opt to migrate or travel to towns or cities to earn money, this option is less open to women because of the social norms that tie them to the home. Women may instead opt to increase day labouring in the nearby villages and towns or change the pattern of farming or crops.

In addition to looking at gender norms, there is a further need to look at socioeconomic status and underlying power relations to fully understand climate change impact and adaptation strategies. Understanding the layered identities of and discrimination faced by individuals provides a more complete picture of the limitations they face and the opportunities that are available to them. A focus on ‘power-laden social structures such as dependency, caste- and gender-unequal relations can potentially craft more holistic adaptive responses that tap into opportunities to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable peoples’ (Onta and Resurreccion 2011:356).

CARE. (2010). ‘Adaptation, Gender and Women’s Empowerment’, CARE International Climate Change Brief, CARE International UK, London
This brief explains CARE’s approach to adaptation, which incorporates activities that challenge gender norms to increase people’s resilience to climate hazards. The ability of women to manage climate crises is constrained by an inequitable distribution of rights, resources and power. Women’s empowerment and climate adaptation can be mutually reinforcing: women are more risk averse than men, more open to advice and more willing to change strategies in response to new information.

Onta, N. and Resurreccion, B. (2011). ‘The Role of Gender and Caste in Climate Adaptation Strategies in Nepal’, Mountain Research and Development, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 351-356
This study analyses the situation of Dalit and Lama households in the Humla district of Nepal. Their livelihoods have been adversely affected by a shift in the monsoon season, a decrease in snowfall and longer dry periods. The study finds that Dalits are pushing caste boundaries, but that gender boundaries are remaining resilient even during crisis. Gendered, and caste-related, relations of dependency both enable and constrain capacities to adapt to climate change. By focusing on social structures such as dependency, caste- and gender-unequal relations, development actors can craft more holistic adaptive responses that maximise opportunities to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable peoples.

Tschakert, P., & Machado, M. (2012). Gender justice and rights in climate change adaptation: opportunities and pitfalls. Ethics and Social Welfare, 6(3), 275-289.
How does climate change discourse frame gender? This paper provides an overview of the literature that has depicted women both as vulnerable victims of climatic change and as active agents in adaptive responses. It then describes the shift from gendered impacts to gendered adaptive capacities and embodied experiences, highlighting the continuing impact of social biases and institutional practices. These shape unequal access to and control over household and community decision-making processes, undermining timely, fair, and successful adaptive responses. It argues that a human security framework is useful to fill the gap in current gender and climate justice work.
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United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2010). ‘Gender, Climate Change and Community-Based Adaptation’, UNDP, New York
This guidebook presents many experiences and examples taken from the UNDP-GEF Community-Based Adaptation Programme that are being piloted throughout the world. The Guidebook is useful for any community-based practitioners who wish to review successful cases of gender mainstreaming in community-based adaptation projects.
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Disaster preparedness and risk reduction

Related to the issue of climate change is the importance of disaster risk reduction (DRR). With increased weather volatility, individuals living in risk zones need to be prepared. DRR has suffered from insufficient gender mainstreaming, though this is now starting to change. While women used to be added as a component to DRR strategies, there is now an increasing acknowledgement that wider community participation, including women and men, young and old, poor and rich, must be ensured in DRR strategies.

The DRR industry has also closely followed other shifts in the climate change debate. While the strategic focus of disaster management has often been reactive in nature, it is increasingly coming to be seen as a more long-term process, where both gender and DRR are considered necessary to achieving sustainable development.

Alexander, B., de Milliano, C. and Sekhar Bahinipati, C. (2010). ‘Participation of the Most Vulnerable in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Decision-making and Action’ in Setiadi, N., Birkmann, J. and Buckle, P. (eds), Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaption: Case Studies from South and Southeast Asia, United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), No. 14/2010, pp.54-61
This chapter explores the extent to which the most vulnerable victims of natural hazards are, or can be, included in DRR and CCA decision-making and action. Drawing on case studies from the Maldives, Indonesia and India, it highlights the importance of including the most vulnerable, such as the poor in general and youth and women in particular. Obstacles to such participation include power relations within and across social systems, individual capacity levels, and lack of public awareness. Overcoming these challenges involves planning and working for equity within a community, planning for the needs of the most vulnerable at the local level and transferring knowledge from national to local level.

United Nations. (2009). ‘Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines’ Gender Working Group on Disaster Reduction, UN/ISDR, IUCN, UNDP, Geneva
Existing socio-economic conditions mean that disasters can lead to different outcomes even for demographically similar communities – but the most vulnerable groups suffer more than others. Disasters reinforce, perpetuate and increase gender inequality, making bad situations worse for women. Meanwhile, the potential contributions that women can offer to disaster risk reduction are often overlooked and female leadership in building community resilience to disasters is frequently disregarded. This joint publication is a result of a UNISDR-led process supporting implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA). This book offers guidelines for national and local governments to implement the HFA.
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Monitoring and evaluation

The World Bank. (n.d.). ‘Gender Informed Monitoring and Evaluation in Disaster Risk Management’, Guidance Note no. 3
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International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2009). ‘Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change’, IUCN and UNDP
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UNFPA and WEDO. (2009). ‘Climate Change Connections: A Resource Kit on Climate, Population and Gender’, UNFPA and WEDO
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Further resources

Haider, H. (2011). ‘Climate Change and Empowerment’, GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report, GSDRC, Birmingham