CLIMATE CHANGE & GENDER EQUALITY: CONNECTIONS THAT MATTER

By Bridget Burns – Director at WEDO: Women’s Environment & Development Organization

March 13, 2019 – Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, and both its causes and consequences are entwined with the unjust, inequitable, and destructive systems that govern our world. As the IPCC report released last October made crystal clear, we are at a critical juncture for necessary action to stabilize global warming below 1.5° C (2.7° F) to avoid greater threats and loss than we are already experiencing. Meeting this challenge requires transformational change from how we power our homes and build our cities, to how we feed our families, buy products, and move around. Climate change — and SDG 13: “take urgent action to combat climate change and all its impacts” — is interwoven across and between these and multiple other sectors, and failing to fully address climate change is a fundamental obstacle to attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The widespread and unprecedented impacts of climate change are already disproportionately burdening the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized groups, magnifying existing and overlapping inequalities. Gender is a critical intersectional dimension that must be recognized, understood, and addressed to successfully and sustainably mitigate, adapt and build resilience to climate change across our communities. Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls exists as an explicit goal under the 2030 Agenda (SDG 5), and is also a driver and essential component of sustainable development in all its dimensions: from ending poverty and hunger, to building peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and to promoting and protecting the health of natural resources and our planet. It is central to effective climate action, and can move us toward positive systemic and transformative change.

Women’s work, leadership and contributions positively impact social, economic and environmental progress around the globe, from rural to urban, and local to international settings. Women make up 43 percent of the formal agricultural labor work force in developing countries, contributing a major share to the global food supply, and women in forest communities are able to generate more than 50 percent of their livelihood from forests, compared with about one third for men. Women do this while also contributing the majority share of care (or reproductive) work, often unpaid, in developing and developed countries. Yet, this burden of care contributes to women supporting the household functions from education to health services, energy provision, and shopping. Globally, women drive 70-80 percent of all consumer purchases through a combination of buying power and influence. The majority of these household functions are connected to — either enabled or limited by — the mobility, or transportation, choices women must make.

Despite this pivotal role of women in household and global economies, 90 percent of 173 economies have at least one law impeding women’s economic empowerment. Women’s roles, rights, knowledge, and access to resources and services are perpetually hindered and marginalized due to entrenched patriarchal systems. These limitations and marginalization across sectors have resulted in women often being disproportionately impacted by climate change. Socio-cultural systems may limit women’s voice and agency in decision-making, where they are often ignored, excluded, and not represented as stakeholders, or lack the capacity to engage in conversations and decision-making processes.

Women’s organizing is key to changing these norms. Women’s capacity to speak, innovate, and lead is a driver for sustainable change and is the reason why the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) was founded to act as a bridge builder for women into spaces of greater power. We know that “ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” (SDG 5.5) is imperative as a driver for sustainable development, and in addressing climate change.

WEDO has been a historical leader in making spaces accessible and inclusive for women, feminist advocates and gender-related groups, recognizing stakeholders with diverse experiences, interests and priorities must be brought to the table and engaged. Through advocacy and action, WEDO connects and facilitates access to and convenings for women’s organizations, governments, and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, to ensure that women’s human rights are at the heart of global and national planning and policies, particularly relevant to the environment and sustainable development. WEDO also, through training, mobilizing action and resources, delivers leadership development providing technical skills and tools to equip themselves to fully and confidently engage as decision-makers and agents of change for a more just future.

The climate change SDG targets provide ample entry points for ensuring and enhancing women’s full and effective participation while simultaneously supporting progress toward other SDGs’ targets, including SDG 5. Engagement needs to be strategic and dynamic, taking form in various ways as is fit for purpose, to synergize and maximize potential action and outcomes. The following highlights a few key links between the climate targets and how engaging women and gender-related groups will drive a gender-responsive approach to climate policy, planning and action, and thus sustainable results, and how WEDO is supporting tangible action and results toward achieving SDG 13 — and others. From these examples, it is clear that failing to take a gender-responsive approach to climate change is failing to comprehensively and sustainably combat climate change.

Making progress toward the targets

Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries (13.1)

Women face the brunt of negative climate impacts, particularly from climate-related hazards and natural disasters. This stems from their limited access to technology when early warning systems cannot reach them; mobility issues during events compounded by women’s common responsibility for the young, sick and elderly in households; and/or their (lack of) safety and health in emergency shelters and refugee camps. In the aftermath of disasters, women’s access to services and rights may delay or hinder their resiliency anywhere from accessing loans, rebuilding, and re-establishing their lives and livelihoods. Women’s varied roles and experiences are a critical factor to consider when countries are planning for and implementing adaptation and resilience strategies to ensure these very issues are addressed with equitable solutions. WEDO’s work supporting the establishment of, and now facilitation with, the Women’s Major Group on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) promotes this consideration in the international framework on disaster risk reduction. The inclusion of the WMG within these dialogues at international, and transfer to national platforms, improves the voice and agency of women. Their experiences and priorities to enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, for example in remote island states, promotes the empowerment of women (SDG 5.b), and is at the forefront of climate change in negotiations (e.g., loss and damage) but as frontline communities already facing life-changing impacts.

Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning (13.2)

As countries plan and prepare national policies and strategies, an inclusive gender-responsive and human rights-based approach needs to be utilized. A key expression of countries’ policies and plans concerning climate change is the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) developed by each Party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A review by WEDO of 190 NDCs found only 64 countries include a reference to women or gender, most commonly with the reference characterized as a vulnerable group. If intersectional gender and human dimensions are not integrated across the climate-relevant development sectors in NDCs and additional climate change measures, then they will not prove to be just and sustainable.

To ensure this alignment, there needs to be increased effort and support to engage women, women’s organizations, and gender-related groups (including national gender machinery) in the processes determining what plans and policies will be developed. Increasingly, national gender machinery — e.g., a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, National Council on Women and Girls, or national gender focal points — are recognizing the linkages between gender and climate change.

Conducting a gender analysis across climate sectors to effectively determine an evidence-based pathway forward to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality within climate measures is a key initial step.

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