Gender & Climate

  1. Introduction

The climate is changing throughout the world: temperatures are rising, sea level is changing, ice is melting, rain is not predictable and floods, strong winds and droughts are more severe and happen more often. This change is due largely to the oil and coal that we use for energy and the petro-chemical industry.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to human kind today. It represents a serious challenge to sustainable development, social justice, equity and respect for human rights, also for future generations. Within Southern Africa, poor people are more vulnerable to climate change due to their limited resources to be able to adapt to a changing environment. Among them, the rural poor, and rural women and girls are the ones most immediately affected by climate change. Despite the fact that Climate Change has received serious attention in South Africa, gender is still overlooked in climate change policies that address adaptation (Babugura 2010) and mitigation.  This has also been evident in the process of developing the national climate change response policy where gender was hardly recognised as a key issue for policy makers.

  1. What does gender have to do with it?

Gender is the relationship between boys, men, girls and women. It involves the roles and responsibilities that are allocated to women and men such as child care for women and being the bread winner for men. However these roles are not constant and change under different conditions such as when men lose their jobs and women are able to keep the family through earning an income.

Climate change will affect all countries, in all parts of the world. But its impacts will be spread differently among regions, generations, age classes, income groups, occupations and genders (IPCC, 2001). The poor are more vulnerable to climate change due to their limited resources (such as savings, strong houses, cars to escape floods) so that it is hard to adapt to the changing environment.

The people likely to suffer most from the impacts of climate change are those least responsible for causing it. It is widely recognised that the developing countries are expected to suffer more from the devastating effect of climate change than the developed countries. It will affect all countries, in all parts of the world. But its impacts will be spread differently among regions, generations, age classes, income groups, occupations and genders (IPCC, 2001). The majority of the poor are women living in developing countries. Climate change is not gender-neutral. Within Southern Africa, women and girls in the rural areas are the ones most immediately affected by climate change because they are likely to have the least access to resources to manage the changes.

  1. What are gender-specific vulnerabilities and responses to climate change?

South Africa is already affected by climate change. It is an arid or semi-arid country and it is subject to droughts and floods. Even small variations in rainfall or temperatures would exacerbate this already stressed environment. Most South African crops are grown in areas that are only just climatically suitable and with limited water supplies. There are already ominous signs of a changing climate, for example dry seasons are becoming longer and wet seasons starting later. Rainfall is reported to be becoming even more variable, with rain coming in more concentrated, violent bursts.

Climate change worsens existing vulnerabilities and adds to the pressures on the environment and natural resources on which so many South Africans directly rely. These existing gender differential impacts of climate change are attributed to existing inequalities between men and women in South Africa such as unequal access to resources, gendered division of labour and decision-making power which affects the ability to respond to the effects of climate change. For example, after climate-related disaster like the floods that have been experienced in the country, women are among the first to lose their homes, jobs and have to work long hours to control the situation and get their households back in order, while men are more mobile and continue with their daily activities which mostly involve going to work. Many women continue to head the households in many rural villages across the country where they are not readily mobile because they care for their children and the elderly while relying on the reduced natural resources and subsistence agriculture to sustain their families and generate an income. 

However they are positioned, women are not just victims of their gender roles. According to the study conducted by Babugura (2010) gender roles in South Africa are undergoing change due to climate related impacts which are further heightened by factors such as unemployment, HIV/AIDS and poverty which forces men and women to engage in different activities leading to new roles. With more women diversifying their livelihoods, gender roles are also being impacted. This change in gender roles is to accommodate responses to the impacts of climate variability. In the study by Baburuga (2010) it was evident that women are now involved in activities that generate earnings, thus reshaping relationships between men and women. The income generated by women through trade may be used to sustain the household. Women generating an income also have more opportunities and power to decide what the income can be used for.

  1. Women as part of climate change solution..

Thus women may be effective agents of change for both mitigation and adaptation. They have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction, and adaptation strategies.

Women and Climate Change Mitigation

Women already play an important role in the mitigation of climate change by changing buying habits, educating family members, conservation efforts, and their willingness to take action. Not only are women the providers of households and vital actors in agriculture, they are also the ones who will have to work with the renewable forms of energy such as biomass, biogas and solar, necessary in order to tackle climate change. More importantly, as mothers and educators they have a crucial role to play in the promotion of behavioral change in economic and societal activities. Gender differences are also of importance when it comes to the assessment of actual measures aimed at mitigating climate change. While men tend to place their trust in technological solutions to problems, women are more inclined to work for a change in lifestyles and a general reduction in energy consumption (Roehr 2009). Moreover, women tend to reject unproven technologies such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage much more strongly than men do (Alber 2010).

Women and Climate Change Adaptation

One of the key components of global action on climate change will be measures to adapt to changes that are already unavoidable. As a result, involving both women and men and their respective viewpoints in the climate adaptation process of planning and implementation is critical to ensure that the final solutions will actually benefit all members of a community. Women have a lot of knowledge useful for adaptation because they work with the environment through their household duties including fetching water, gathering firewood and fruits and farming.

When developing and implementing adaptation strategies at the local level, either in rural or urban settings, it is critical to recognise and respect the greater vulnerability of women to the impacts of climate change as well as the difference in the way they are affected in comparison to men. For instance, they are more strongly depending on well-functioning infrastructure for water and sanitation, energy services, and mobility which is at risk due to extreme weather events.

The specific needs of women should be considered when developing or designing local-level adaptation strategies, programmes and activities. For example, the needs of women have to be taken into consideration when seeking to improve access to agricultural extension services, developing disaster risk reduction strategies and identifying and distributing tools for adaptation. At the same time, recognition needs to be given to women’s knowledge and experience with respect to, for example, seed selection, medicinal plants, local hydrology, community organisation, and coping strategies that can promote adaptation to climate change. Adaptation plans, programmes and strategies need to include not only men’s but also women’s knowledge and experiences.

Women and Climate Change Technology

GenderCC believes that technological developments related to climate change should take in to account women’s specific priorities and needs and make full use of their knowledge and expertise including traditional practices. Women’s involvement in the development of new technologies can ensure that they are user friendly, effective and sustainable. Women should have also equal access to training, credit and skill-development programs to ensure their full participation in climate change initiatives.

Because of women’s differential access to knowledge, institutional support, technological know-how, there is an obvious technology divide within the societies, especially in developing countries. As GenderCC, we recognize technology needs for women as of highest order. We also recognize women’s indigenous knowledge towards enhancing adaptive capacity. Needs assessment for any technology transfer must be strictly scrutinized in consultation with the stakeholders and with affected women as well. Technology to be transferred to the community must take into consideration that it is at least benign to women. Capacity building of stakeholder women before transfer of the technology must be a prerequisite.

In order to meet women’s livelihood needs, governments should identify strategies for technology exchange processes, which help rural and indigenous women increase household productivity and alleviate work load, while mitigating or adapting to climate change as well as facilitate the exchange of technologies that offer ecologically sustainable and socially equitable solutions for developing countries and for women and men within these countries.

Women and Climate Change Finance

GenderCC believes that a just and sustainable financing framework for mitigation and adaptation must guarantee that the financial burdens of coping with climate change risks are not transferred to those who contribute minimally to greenhouse gas emissions. Financing policies for climate change mitigation and adaptation must explicitly consider as well as respond to different experiences and needs of women, especially those women who are on the socio-economic margins of society.

Climate change obviously tends to deepen existing inequalities even further and we can try to do something about it by designing appropriate adaptation and mitigation activities. Therefore gender budgeting and gender audits of all climate change funds must be applied. Investments in programmes for adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, capacity building, etc. should also be measured by their contribution to social justice, and gender justice in particular.

Capacity Building for women

GenderCC believes that educating women about the impacts of climate change as well as ways to improve their resilience to climate variability is a very crucial component of adapting and mitigating climate change. It is important to improve women’s access to information, such as disaster warnings and longer–term changes in weather patterns. It must be ensured that rural women and women who have been denied the right to education are not excluded. As well, it has to be taken into consideration that women and men use different information channels. Capacity building programmes should draw on priorities put forward by women and local communities and recognize that women and men have different needs. They should include community-level exchanges so as to spread local knowledge and empower those who develop it and provide information relating to agriculture such as suitable crops and rainwater harvesting in order to help ensure food security and promote sovereignty. Equal benefit sharing mechanisms must be developed to ensure that local communities and especially women are not excluded from accrued benefits.  As a result, monitoring and evaluation of capacity building programmes at all levels should be gender specific.

  1. Key Gender and Climate Change in the UNFCCC COP Process

Women and gender groups have been engaging in the UNFCCC COP process for many years and their lobbying for greater gender integration in the negotiation text towards a global climate change deal have been gaining momentum. However, recently many women and gender advocates have started questioning whether there will be real gender integration in the UNFCCC COP negotiations or will countries just pay a lip-service to this important issue of gender and climate change to attract funding and support?

There has been a recent unsettling development that might result in countries and various institutions using gender in the climate change negotiating process for their own selfish gain rather than advocating for real integration of gender in the global climate change agreement!  At the end, gender has not been integrated in the shared vision for long-term cooperative action text that came out of COP17.

As a result, a lot of women, gender advocacy and lobby groups are being challenged to regroup and strategise how they can effectively influence the global climate change negotiations to integrate gender justice. There is no doubt that for them to achieve fundamental gender justice in the global climate change regime, a lot of lobbying and advocacy has to happen in-countries. This will result in a bottom up approach where UNFCCC Parties come to the COP with clear positions on gender justice within the global climate change deal that have been influenced by their citizens, including women in their countries. This will also ensure that UNFCCC Parties are held accountable by their national women and gender groups should they not keep up with their commitments.

  1. Sources for more information:
  2. A Babugura, C. Mtshali and M. Mtshali. (2010). Gender and Climate Change: South Africa case Study, Heinrich Böll Foundation Southern Africa: Cape Town.
  3. Röhr, U.2009. Gender in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. Factsheet in the Dialogue on Globalisation journal. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
  4. ipcc.ch
  5. gendercc.net
  6. unfccc.intl