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!

Introduction
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.  

Conclusion
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.   

 References

  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 http://www.kccap.info/index.php?option=com_phocadownload&view=category&download=207:gender-a-youth-brief&id=34:resilience {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

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