Gender perspective in climate change

Muniva Islam and SM Saify Iqbal | Published: 00:00, Apr 10,2021


THE widespread impact of global climate change has shaken the current era and it is now a hot topic of discussion. Climate change is continuous, but resilient strategies lag far behind mainstreamed approaches. The magnitude of climate change is being felt and the human race’s direct responsibility for it is becoming clearer by the day. According to a climate survey report released in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, heating gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are increasing in the atmosphere. Unwanted use of fossil fuels, particularly fuel energy in industrial production, increases the amount of gases in the atmosphere, on the one hand; deforestation and improper soil use reduces the ability of plants and soil to absorb carbon dioxide, on the other. In fact, it serves as a catalyst for increased global warming and, as a result, a shift in the global climate system.

Global average surface temperatures have increased by about 1°C to 1.2°C since pre-industrial times. The world’s communities that are the least responsible for GHG emissions are now struggling to survive as a result of this temperature rise. This is evident when we consider the victims of global disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires, cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes. Climate change, according to the latest scientific opinion, makes these events more likely and serious. The vulnerability components of climate change are exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity, as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. A community’s exposure and sensitivity to the negative impacts of climate change, as well as its ability to respond successfully or not, makes the community vulnerable and can result in long-term losses and damages.

Everyone is affected by climate change, but women and men are affected differently, and women are disproportionately harmed. Women, in comparison to men, have less access to resources, fewer rights, less mobility, and a diminished voice in shaping decisions and policy. Simultaneously, gender roles generally ascribed to women, such as informal and reproductive work, often relate to care-giving for households and communities, seed and soil care, traditional agricultural knowledge maintenance, and responsibility for natural resource management, such as firewood and water, and thus these roles create opportunity for engagement as women bring diverse and critical perspectives. Women are often more vulnerable to climate change due to disparities in economic opportunities and access to productive resources, as they are generally poorer, have less education, and are not involved in the political, community, and household decision-making processes that affect their lives. Also, there is not enough discussion of the rights of women in existing climate policies.

Since 2007, there has been a greater focus on the human aspects of climate change at the international level. Climate change has for long been primarily discussed as an economic and technical issue during international negotiations. Civil society, on the other hand, has begun to raise awareness that it is also a socio-economic problem that affects people’s lives. Climate justice is a notion that has been used to draw policymakers’ attention to the lack of consideration for the human aspects of climate change. The under-recognised gender aspects of climate change and the policies implemented to address it have also been highlighted. Despite the fact that climate change is often assumed to be gender-neutral, evidence suggests that women and men are affected differently. Women, especially in developed countries, are particularly vulnerable due to existing gender inequality caused by cultural roles and limited access to education, resources, and ownership. Women, in addition to being victims, have a critical role to play in finding solutions, but they are under-represented in climate change (inter)national negotiations and policymaking. Climate policy as well as the wider global sustainable development agenda faces a critical year in 2015. It’s now an important matter of concern to assess the progress on gender mainstreaming in the context of climate change responses, as well as key challenges and opportunities for moving towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

In 2001, the COP7 adopted the first standalone decision on improving gender balance and women’s participation, and gender equality is incorporated as a guiding principle for national adaptation action plans. Parties agreed to decisions at the COP16 in 2010 that mainstreamed gender aspects across finance, adaptation, and capacity building, sending a message that gender equality and women’s participation are required for effective action on all aspects of climate change. Since 2010, gender equality issues have been included in almost every decision adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At COP17 in 2011, the Green Climate Fund took a fund-wise gender-sensitive approach, which was bolstered by a Gender Action Plan in 2014. COP18 adopted a second standalone decision under the Convention to improve gender balance, as well as to make gender a permanent item on the COP’s agenda. The Warsaw International Mechanism, which includes a mandate for collecting gender disaggregated data, was adopted by COP19 in 2013.

The first Lima Work Programme on Gender was launched in 2014 by the COP20 to advance gender balance and incorporate gender issues into the work of parties and the secretariat in implementing the Convention and the Paris Agreement, resulting in gender responsive climate policy and action. There is reason to be concerned about the slow pace of progress in the UNFCCC delegations and constituted bodies when it comes to equal participation in decision-making. Gender balance improved only slightly between 2008 and 2016. The Paris Agreement, which was adopted at COP21 in 2015, marked a watershed moment in the UNFCCC’s history of gender inclusion; it is widely regarded as a significant stepping stone for international climate action. The Lima Work Programme on Gender was extended for three years at COP22 in 2016, with a review at COP25, and the UNFCCC’s first gender action plan was launched at COP 23. Parties agreed to a five-year improved Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan at COP 25 in 2019.One of the five priority areas in the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan is ‘Information on the differentiated effects of climate change on women and men, with special attention paid to local communities and indigenous peoples’.

Although some progress has been made in integrating the gender issue into climate change responses, there are still some gaps, as well as internal and external challenges, that are preventing effective implementation. Many gender decisions have been required by the UNFCCC, but the decisions are not always robust and direct. For policymakers and practitioners, the language and terminology used in UNFCCC gender decisions creates confusion about the goal, scope, direction, and authorisation of mandate. In addition, there is an imbalance in how gender is mainstreamed across thematic regions. Although there is widespread recognition of the need for gender-sensitive adaptation, there are few mandates and a lack of political will to promote gender mainstreaming in mitigation and technology. In terms of resource allocation, there are still few dedicated resources for taking gender-related actions. Furthermore, many of the capacity building/training components of the newly created Lima work programme are limited, necessitating reliance on other UN agencies, intergovernmental institutions, and civil society organisations to complete the work programme’s implementation. Generally, gender mainstreaming is both an opportunity and a challenge in the ongoing negotiations for a new climate agreement. The problem is primarily one of a lack of broad political will and awareness, which calls the ‘progress’ on mainstreaming gender into climate policy into question. Finally, there is a rhetorical and gender knowledge challenge. While gender issues are now more prominent in the UNFCCC, there is a significant knowledge gap regarding the social dimensions of climate change issues among the majority of those involved in climate policy from a scientific, technical, and financial perspective.

Several key recommendations could reinforce the successful implementation of gender mainstreaming in climate policy, keeping in mind the clear gaps, challenges, and opportunities such as (a) ensuring that gender equality remains at the heart of the new climate agreement, ie that all climate actions under the new agreement are gender-sensitive. This would demonstrate the political will for a comprehensive approach to climate policy that is both effective and efficient; (b) enforcing the convention and related decisions, ensuring that women and women’s organisations are represented in any stakeholder consultations (eg, gender equality ministries, international, national, and local women’s groups, etc); (c) conducting consultations, in-depth research, and analysis with women, including indigenous women in communities and other experts, promoting equal rights to use biodiversity and derive benefits from it; (d) supporting women and men’s full, equal and effective participation in decision-making and all actions related to the development, implementation, monitoring, and assessment of national Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan and national reports; (e) supporting the development and implementation of gender-responsive interventions, policies, and programmes and providing appropriate resources, expertise, and funds; (f) collecting data disaggregated by sex, age, geographic location, and other relevant demographic variables to determine current differences and inequalities between men and women, and using that information to inform policy reforms and related actions to address those inequalities; and (g) Tracking the progress of gender mainstreaming implementation in the Convention’s operations through monitoring and reporting. In addition, each country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions should be tracked. Parties and admitted observers are invited to send information on progress towards gender balance and gender responsive climate policy goals as part of the Lima Work Programme on Gender.

Climate change is already causing extensive socio-economic and environmental damage, as well as human suffering, all over the world. Human freedoms are being eroded and choices are being limited as a result of climate change, on the one hand, while climate change, on the other hand, does not affect everyone equally. Changes at the international and national levels are required to establish a gender-sensitive climate policy. Civil society and policymakers can play an important role in raising public awareness and bringing gender issues to the forefront of climate change discussions. In addition, women’s participation in negotiations and decision-making needs to increase on all levels, both through representation in government delegations and through women’s rights organisations.


Muniva Islam is a researcher. SM Saify Iqbal is a development activist.

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