Counteracting the Disproportionate Burden of Climate Change On Women

This month's blog is my essay entry into the Call for Essays: 2014 Africa Youth Day selected as finalist as it analyzed how climate change is affecting women in developing countries and probable counteracting measures. Hope you find it an interesting piece for reading!

It is now widely accepted that climate change and climate impacts are not gender neutral. For instance, UNDP’s 2009 Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Change reported that women use and manage natural resources differently than men; the degradation of natural resources affects them differently and a change in or loss of natural resources occasioned by climate change may increase their disadvantage. In this essay where the word ‘women’ also encompasses girls, I will first put forward why it is so important to integrate gender aspects into the policy, academic and political debates on climate change. I will then present how women in developing countries are disproportionately affected by anthropogenic changes to the global climate. Finally, I will argue the case for women empowerment and their role so that they become key partners in reducing climate change. Frequently all around the world, while there has been a great deal of effort to investigate (and debate) climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation in other areas such as agriculture, energy and governance just to mention a few, relatively smaller investment has been made to understand how it disproportionately affects gender, youth and other vulnerable groups. Therefore, as a growing body of research shows, a gender-equitable approach that primarily mobilizes the people who are most affected by climate change to come up with solutions fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth. 

Why is it so important to integrate gender aspects into debates on climate change?
The role of human activity in accelerating climate change is now beyond doubt (albeit to some) and the release of the fifth assessment report (AR5) by the IPCC was yet another firm confirmation of the overwhelming scientific evidence to this fact. Yet often times, policy, political and academic debates on climate change do not feature gender aspects. The 2007/2008 Human Development Report confirmed that the disadvantages of women, who historically have had limited access to resources (land, credit, technology, access to information, etc.), restricted their rights and reduced their voice in decision making, making them extremely vulnerable to climatic change. 

In a single glance, it might seem unintuitive to link climate change and gender issues. However, research has shown that the different socio-economic roles that men and women play in a society specifically contribute to women’s vulnerability to climate change. Perhaps one of the best indicators of this fact is in the traditional African societies; where men are on the one hand responsible for the overall financial security and safety of the family, women on the other play an important role in agriculture, food security, health care, water supply and childcare.

However and increasingly, even in those households that are male-headed, women are responsible for the overall security and wellbeing of the family. Thus, the burden of sustaining the family falls disproportionately on women when the availability of food, firewood and clean, safe water is threatened by both fast- and slow-paced extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. The scarcity of clean water and firewood for example, increases a woman’s workload and the time required to meet these and other basic needs. This reduces the time to participate in other areas of society or be gainfully employed and take a meaningful role in productive non-traditional sectors of mining or engineering just mentioning a few. Climate change can thus intensify existing economic and social gender disparities[1]. Hence, both sexes do not have the same impact on climate change, and perhaps more importantly, are differently affected by it. 

Women in developing countries are disproportionately affected
Clearly, gender aspects of climate change are a matter of justice, human rights, and human security. This is especially so since a majority of women have ordinarily been concentrated in sectors that are related to their reproductive roles. Many female- and child-headed households do not yield either political or financial power which means they are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to lack of coping mechanisms. Lifestyle changes occasioned by lack of education, health, food and water or housing due to climate change-related extreme weather events imply some women and girls are forced to adopt unhealthy and unsafe near- and long-term “coping strategies” including but not limited to commercial sex work and early, forced or arranged marriage of the girl-child. In the latter case, the dowry obtained in exchange for the girl is used to temporarily meet the girl’s family sustenance. This is not an uncommon situation for some girls living in rural African areas. The situation of women in the developed world is quite different. Women there do not rely on natural resources and as such are not as sensitive to global environmental changes. 

Women empowerment and women's role
In many African countries, there exists no specific climate change policy for any of the economic sectors including any legislation for addressing the sensitivity of gender, youth and vulnerable groups to effectively enable them increase their resilience and ability to cope in view of a changing climate. Also in the developing world, the effects of climate change are making everyday life of people increasingly difficult. Among them, women are worst off. With regard to sustainability, natural resource management and poverty alleviation, women are not only change agents but also long-time leaders at both the household and community levels. As such, gender equality is a key issue in the climate change debate because it will have disastrous consequences on the gender balance if gender-based climate analysis and gender-based preventive measures are not employed to fight climate change.

We have now established that both the causes and the consequences of global environmental changes vary abruptly for men and women and therefore a gender-blind analysis is, without any doubt, an illogical and inefficient approach. Moreover, it is a matter of fact that women are among the poorest of the poor and their high vulnerability to anthropogenic changes to the global climate differs due to factors such as financial status, geographical location and living standards. In addition to including women in climate change planning and decision making processes, other specific gender equality actions are:

  1. As there is still limited understanding and few research results concerning the intersection of climate change and gender, the first step is supporting the collection and access to accurate data and information gathering on the same; strengthening the analysis of the harsh effects of climate change on women and disseminating findings to local people especially women, politicians and other concerned stakeholders is mandatory so as to not only make them aware but also enable participatory planning of better policies for more effective climate change governance.
  2. Supporting women’s green businesses in non-traditional sectors by fostering favorable environments through for example creating an enterprise fund to support the most promising, innovative and locally led start-ups that have the potential to make real improvements in poverty eradication and environmental sustainability while contributing to a greener economy. This way, they not only make money but also at the same time remain conscious of environmental impacts.  
  3. Considering gender in the design of other adaptation and mitigation strategies and programmes on the local, national and international levels. In the energy sector, mitigation interventions targeting household energy use must consider that women are the most affected. The benefits of disseminating energy efficient cooking stoves and solar lamps must be specifically directed to women to help address the energy poverty challenge encountered at the household level. Similarly in the agricultural sector, climate change governance programs must be directed towards women farmers who play an important role in food production.   
  4. Adding considerations of climate change vulnerability to already existing programmes and activities to encourage governance that contributes to reducing vulnerability of women is also critical as gender inequality is reflected in increased vulnerability. Support is needed to simply involve women directly in climate change control measures thus improve their ability to respond to climate change. But women must also be mentally prepared to take charge in contributing to change both in their personal and professional capacities. Their time to effect change is now.  

A thorough scan of literature indicates that gender equality and the fight against climate change are two challenges that have to be tackled simultaneously and urgently because women – due to their roles and rights (and/or lack thereof) – are often disproportionally affected (Eriksen, S.E.H., Klein, R. J.T., Ulsrud, K., Naess, L.O. and O’Brien, K. 2007; Rodenberg, B. 2009; UNDP, 2007 and UNDP, 2009). We must adapt mechanisms that reduce, or at least do not increase the gender issues since as one of the traditionally marginalized sections of the populace, by empowering and emancipating women, we will perform more efficiently in addressing climate change and its consequences. Mainstreaming the gender perspective is not only a sensible choice for our societies still dependent on gendered roles and responsibilities; it is a better, more efficient way to reach our overall climate change governance goals.   


  1. Eriksen, S.E.H., Klein, R.J.T., Ulsrud, K., Naess, L.O. and O’Brien, K. (2007). Climate Change Adaption and Poverty Reduction: Key Interactions and Critical Measures. Report prepared for Norad. Oslo: Global Environmental Change and Human Security. In Government of Kenya (GoK), Climate Care (CC), Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Mainstreaming Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan into the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups Sector.
  2. Government of Kenya (GoK), Climate Care (CC), Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Mainstreaming Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan into the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups Sector {Accessed October 10, 2014}
  3. Rodenberg, B. (2009). Climate Change Adaptation from a Gender Perspective. Bonn: German Development Institute. In Government of Kenya (GoK), Climate Care (CC), Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Mainstreaming Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan into the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups Sector.
  4. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2007). Human Development Report 2007-2008. Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World. New York: UNDP. In Government of Kenya (GoK), Climate Care (CC), Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Mainstreaming Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan into the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups Sector.
  5. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2009. Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Change. New York: UNDP. In Government of Kenya (GoK), Climate Care (CC), Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Mainstreaming Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan into the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups Sector.

[1] Rodenberg, B. (2009). Climate Change Adaptation from a Gender Perspective. Bonn: German Development Institute

Get involved in the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network

Dear participants,

A 24 year young person will be 60 by the year 2050. In his surrounding, there will probably be more inhabitants because it is forecast that global population will grow to 9 billions (2 billion additional individuals) by that time. 

If we want global population to be well nourished and live in a more viable and stable world, it is essential to increase food production by 60% by 2050.

Dear  young folks, while reading these lines, what do you have in mind: the threat or the opportunity? 

Who will produce these additional 60% food by 2050? 

What if tomorrow, the new generation of Africans become big producers and suppliers of food globally? 

What, you as a young person, can and should do?

We are keen to hear from you and to get ideas, propositions and concrete decisions that you want to realize and share on this forum.




[FARA-Jeune-AIC]Semaine 3:e-discussion sur Jeune et AIC

Cher(e)s Participants,

Un jeune de 24 ans aujourd’hui entrera dans sa vieillesse (la
soixantaine) d’ici 2050 et autour de lui, il y aura plus d’individus
car 2 Milliards de personnes en plus seront à nourrir sur notre
planète d’après les projections.

Pour que tout le monde soit bien nourri, que le monde soit viable et
stable, il faudra, d’ici 2050, produire environ 60% plus de

Chers jeunes, en lisant ses lignes, voyez-vous des menaces ou des
opportunités ?

Qui produira ces 60% supplémentaire d’ici 2050 ?

Et si la (nouvelle) génération d’africain(es) se prépare à devenir les
grands producteurs et fournisseurs de denrées alimentaires mondiales
de demain ?

Qu’est-ce que toi, jeune, peux et devrait faire ?

Nous sommes curieux de connaître ton avis et de recevoir des
propositions et décisions concrètes que tu souhaites réaliser et
partager sur ce forum.

S`il vous plait rejoinez la discussion ici:



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Case Study from the South-East region of Mauritius: Identification of CSA practices by students

By: Vagish Ramborun
During a site visit conducted in the coastal villages of Mauritius namely Petit-Sable and Grand- Sable in the Southeast region of Mauritius, some 25 young students from the University of Mauritius doing a degree Agriscience and Technology were exposed to several climate-smart practices that vegetable farmers have adopted as their farming strategies. Among them the students were able to recognize practices such as mulching, multi-cropping, algal compost, kitchen waste compost, fallowing and run off farming among many others. The young students also received part of the experience of a farmer who has over 30 years of experience in the fields.
(Credit: Vagish Ramborun)
(Credit: Vagish Ramborun)
One of the innovative methods adopted by local farmers was the use of old clothes as mulching. Use of clothes not only help to retain moisture in the soil but has also a very long life span and therefore can be used for a very long time. Being biodegradable they do not pose any danger to the environment.
Other local practices that were identified:
  • Fallowing
  • Green mulching
  • Multi-cropping
  • Intercropping
  • Use of leguminous crop
Vulnerability of the farmers to climate change
Though the farmers have adopted a lot of CSA practices, they are still very vulnerable to climate change. They heavily rely on underground water for irrigation purposes, but when the sea level rises during high tides, sea water gets in their wells that they have to dig plus the salinity of the water increases. Thus, the water becomes unsuitable for irrigation and hence the crops are heavily affected. However during heavy rainfall fresh water table rises and consequently the salinity of the underground water decreases and the farmers can use them again for irrigation. One observational practice that the farmers have adopted is the presence of tadpoles in the wells. According to them tadpoles disappear when the water becomes too saline and therefore when the tadpoles disappear they do not use the water for irrigation.
With the impact of climate change it is projected that the sea water level will rise and there will be fluctuations in the rainfall pattern. These occurrences can have a major impact on the livelihood of the farmers from that region. If sea water level rises saline water will penetrate more into the water table hence increasing the salinity of the water and coupled with reduction in rainfall, the farmers will no longer be able to sustain plant growth.
Credit: Vagish Ramborun
Credit: Vagish Ramborun

The Narrative of the Case for Renewables in Africa Needs to Change

There are a plethora of articles, papers and stories written on how renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures can assist address the numerous energy challenges facing many countries in Africa. Curiously and worryingly however, the rationale for promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in national energy policies is not well disseminated while the debate on the low carbon energy access agenda continues to be very donor driven leaving domestic governments to play a regulatory and policy-setting role. This partly explains why the business-as-usual approach in the energy sector is still followed across much of the landscape. 

National energy policies for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa tend to mainly concentrate on conventional energy systems (i.e. electricity and petroleum) which serve a smaller proportion of the populace at the expense of small-scale renewable energy options, which serve the bulk of the population, but receive limited budgetary (and policy) support. Since renewables and energy efficiency are now among the priority options to increase the provision of modern energy services to the bulk of the population, it is often being driven by climate change and environmental drivers that do not resonate in Africa. As a result, renewables and energy efficiency development has been ad hoc and not explicitly linked to national energy plans.

Stressing the environmental benefits of renewable energy will not be entirely effective in engendering support for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the region. The African region is not yet a major emitter of greenhouse gases associated with climate change, implying the beneficial case of renewable energy and energy efficiency systems narrative is likely to be more successful if advanced on the basis of their socio-economic benefits and long-term cost advantages. Likewise, reframing the debate from cutting emissions to rapidly scaling up renewable energy in confronting climate change will go along way in attracting the level of investment or policy commitment needed for widespread adoption of all forms of renewable energy.

The upcoming Fifth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development to be held in Hammamet, Tunisia, on 4-6 November 2014 will see a new UN Development Account (UNDA) project “Promoting Renewable Energy Investments for Climate Change Mitigation and Sustainable Development” launched by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). It will further advance the implementation of the regional and continental initiatives already on the ground for further utilization of renewable energy in Africa. 

The need to improve modern energy services for the poor particularly in the sub-Saharan Africa region where it is acute needs to be accompanied by demystifying the case for renewable energy and energy efficiency whose support on the whole appears luke-warm. Only then will initiatives such as the formation of an Africa Clean Energy Corridor to help leap frog the continent to renewable energy will effectively make our economies more competitive as others across the developing world markets. African countries need it to lift its population out of massive energy poverty and achieve sustainable economic development. 

Where are Young People in Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Risk Management

It is no doubt that young people the world over continue to shape the climate debate in diverse forms. They have a major and influential role in for instance the climate negotiations and are at the forefront of activism in their home countries pressing their leaders to do more to tackle the climate crisis. But they almost do not have a presence in advocating or promoting Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) or Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and the Youth In Action on Climate Change: Inspiration from Around the World report seems to back up this fact.  This is worrying as promoting disaster resiliency is not at the exclusion of young people.

For this reason, the Major Group of Children and Youth has partnered with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and civil society partners from the Children in a Changing Climate Coalition (CCC) to host a Children & Youth Blast! at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (3WCDRR) to be held in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. Governments around the world have committed to take action to reduce disaster risk, and have adopted a guideline, called the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA) - Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, to reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards. The HFA assists the efforts of nations and communities to become more resilient to, and cope better with, the hazards that threaten their development gains. It has provided an inspiration for knowledge, practice, implementation, experience and science for disaster risk reduction.

As the Post-2015 Framework on DRR will be adopted in Sendai, youth around the world will need to voice their concerns and aspirations as response capacity is needed for every natural disaster whether it is an earthquake, land subsidence, tsunami, fire or a climate change related extreme weather event. Areas of interest for young people include pre-disaster activities such as acquisition of supplies, rescue equipment, and training of personnel engaged in direct disaster management, including disaster risk reduction activities. Disaster-related activities or services such as relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and other works or services in connection with calamities are additional avenues where youth could be involved in DRR and DRM efforts.  Early warning systems, a well-prepared population, good communication among first responders, emergency facilities, access to emergency stores of food, medicine and drinking water, and more will be needed as climate change exacerbate the risk of both slow- and fast-paced extreme events.

As UNISDR continues hosting consultations and negotiations with member states and stakeholders as part of an ongoing effort to build international commitment to integrate disaster and climate risk considerations in development policy and programs with a view to the post-2015 development framework, it is essential that youth are not left behind. It is necessary that they shape discussions and outline an approach toward a new international framework for disaster risk reduction and resilience to be considered in Sendai in 2015. They need to as the world moves toward the end date of the HFA.