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Gender Dimensions of Climate Change Impacts and Responses

Banner- Female and male farmer - Fintrac Inc, USAID

Climate vulnerability and risk depend not only on how serious a climatic hazard (e.g. a drought, flood, extreme temperatures, unusual precipitation patterns, etc.) is but very strongly on the livelihood assets, social networks, skills, knowledge, and position in society, of the people affected by the hazard. The levels of injury, loss, illness, and hardship resulting from climatic shifts and disasters across can be highly variable across different populations, and this is “no accident”: They depend on the way resources and opportunities are distributed in society. Gender inequality is one key factor alongside others such as inequalities on the basis of ethnicity, age, race, caste, religion, etc.

Women: 'more vulnerable to climate change'?

In recent years, a myriad of research documents, public speakers, media outlets, calls for funding proposals and such like have stated that 'women are more vulnerable to climate change than men'. They build 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 girls lives and life chances in the face of climatic shifts and disaster. The trend and risk behind these statements, however, as identified e.g. by the Future Agricultures Consortium has been the portrayal of women as one homogenous group - 'vulnerable and virtuous' at once, as S. Arora-Jonsson put it. This has been accompanied by the targeting of women (through tailored activities) as a strategy to achieve change. While often leading to positive changes for the women involved, these strategies, by failing to involve men and boys, have not necessarily addressed the root causes of inequality.

Addressing the roots of inequality

Consequently, initiatives addressing the causes or impacts of climate change, when taking gender issues into account, 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 analysis is a widely used approach to understanding the specific context an initiative operates in. It is a key starting point for climate change programming that is responsive to gender. Addressing the underlying social power relations and structures that produce inequality requires not only working with women but also with men, with people in powerful positions, with education, laws and social norms. It requires addressing attitudes and behaviours across all of society, not just targeting women and girls. This idea of a 'gender-transformative approach' is only beginning to take hold in climate change programming.

Specific tools and research on gender and climate change

Most available case study evidence on gender and climate change unpacks these 'classic' gender analysis issues in more or less detail. But climate change brings with it a range of new aspects and practices whose gender dimensions are not well understood to date, for example new risks and uncertainties, questions around the future, innovation and flexibility, as well as the need to engage with climate information and climate finance.

Examples of tools
Underground tunnel
M. Roemers / Panos Pictures
Only a few tools and studies have been designed specifically to address the challenging new aspects of climate change. The Pacific Climate Change Coalition toolkit on gender and climate change is comprehensive and features a range of case studies from the region. The global research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security CCAFS and its partners, in addition to developing a dedicated toolbox, have been convening and conducting research on the gender that addresses the challenges of a changing climate .

Image credit: Fintrac Inc, USAID | Flickr