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Climate Change is Not Gender-Blind

December 8, 2017

The 23rd annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP23) under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) wrapped up in Bonn, Germany on November 17th, 2017. For the first time, COP23 approved a Gender Action Plan which advocates for gender mainstreaming and equal representation in climate action leadership, policy making, and program development.

When natural resources are threatened and climate-related catastrophes occur, women and girls are often the hardest hit by the environmental, economic, and social shocks that ensue. This is because the majority of the world’s poor are women, which magnifies their vulnerability to climate-induced shocks. Those in rural areas, where livelihoods are strongly dependent on agriculture, are particularly vulnerable. 

There is extensive research supporting the correlation between the detrimental effects of climate change and the increase in gender-specific threats such as violence against women, maternal death, child marriage, and school drop-out rates, among others.

In addition, in the face of environmental degradation, gender-based divisions of labor at the household and community level can greatly affect women’s access to capacity-building and decision-making opportunities.

It is well documented that empowering women and increasing their access to economic assets can catalyze positive ripple effects across communities and nations. Women often lead in the development of climate change adaptation strategies, and their meaningful and active participation locally and globally is essential to increasing community resilience to environmental shocks. Fortunately, incredible work and innovation in gender-responsive climate action is happening across sectors. 

One example at the community level is the Gender Development Association (GDA) in Laos. This organization puts local knowledge at the core of their mandate. Their programming bridges traditional knowledge with sustainable livelihood initiatives through a training program led by local female leaders in northern Laos. GDA won the ‘transformation winner’ category of the Gender Just Climate Solution Awards at COP23.

Another example is Zua. Started by two McGill University alumni, Zua is a platform which provides affordable micro insurance to low-income female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Their women-focused, non-profit business model offers a safety net to small-holder farmers who risk agricultural shocks caused by droughts or heavy rains.

At the macro level, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been working alongside national governments to create and implement country-specific Climate Change Gender Action Plans (ccGAPs). These seek to build more resilient communities by tackling institutional barriers and engaging women as entrepreneurs, leaders, and partners in climate change response.

An outcome of ccGAPs in Peru was the creation of ‘climate resilient school’ certifications. This certification evaluates schools’ adaptiveness to intense climate-caused events, as well as the inclusion of gender-responsive climate change information in school curricula.

Accessible and accurate gender disaggregated data is crucial for gender-responsive climate action to move forward. As emphasized by Dr. Angel Hsu, Director at Data-Driven Yale, “When you match data to policy, you can make the invisible visible.”

The monitoring of gender-specific dimensions of climate change is one of five priority areas of COP23’s Gender Action Plan. It is urgent for monitoring to go beyond measuring representation of women in climate change policy making; more indicators of real change must be tracked. These include participation in local decision making, increased productive assets, awareness, economic status, and empowerment, among others.

It is also key to establish channels for citizens to hold the UNFCCC, member states, and other climate change actors accountable, and technology can be harnessed to do it. This was observed by the creators of the Gender Climate Tracker App. This free online tool currently provides information on policy, research and decisions related to gender and climate change. In the future, it aims to evolve into a participatory platform where experts and civil society can connect and provide feedback or evaluations of policy implementation. 

The establishment of a Gender Action Plan (GAP) at Bonn is an important leap forward in climate and gender policy. By pushing for gender equity in this area, not only are we upholding human rights and incorporating the voices of people significantly affected, but we are also building the social connectedness needed to establish effective climate change prevention strategies and put them into action. For, as UN Women states, “Climate change is a women’s issue.”