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Gender is a critical component of discussions over climate action

Addressing gender inequalities of losses and damages

Gender is a critical component of discussions over climate action

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In the parlance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “losses and damages” refer broadly to harm from observed climate change impacts (past and current) and projected risks (future). The recent IPCC AR6 WGII report states that “observed mortality and losses due to floods and droughts are much greater for regions with high vulnerability and vulnerable populations such as the poor, women, children, Indigenous Peoples, and the elderly due to historical, political, and socio-economic inequities.”

Further, “the intersection of gender with race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, Indigenous identity, age, disability, income, migrant status, and geographical location often compound vulnerability to climate change impacts, exacerbate inequity and create further injustice.” So scientific evidence confirms what we know from lived experience that losses and damages from climate change exacerbates gender inequalities.

Challenging the dominant narrative

Construction of climate action discourse and policy, including ways of addressing losses and damages, is often done in gender-neutral terms but is dominated by largely masculine norms. So, the discourse tends to focus on technocratic and managerial approaches that are gender “neutral” (often gender-blind) assuming that all people can be affected by or benefit from policies and strategies in the same way. But people who face losses and damages due to exposure and vulnerability are heterogeneous and in distinct positions with regard to power relations. Gender-neutral policies and approaches can end up in outcomes that discriminate against disadvantaged groups such as women.

Seeing women as inherently climate vulnerable is actually part of the gender-blind discourse. It ignores the context-specific aspect of the gender relations and climate change linkages. When this informs policies and interventions to address losses and damages, without a nuanced understanding of context-specific underlying factors and gender power imbalances, it is problematic.

Focusing on “women” instead of gender relations disconnects the analysis and intervention from the gendered socio-economic, cultural and institutional ground upon which women’s marginalisation is generated and sustained. It also puts to one side the need for men’s agency and changes in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours in achieving greater gender equality.

We know that women and girls are disadvantaged by gender inequalities in many ways and circumstances. That is why we have SDG5 (gender equality). A result of these prevalent disadvantages is that the distribution of climate vulnerability is often gender inequitable. In addition, the recognition of women and girls’ specific climate vulnerability is often poor, and their participation in climate resilience response decision making is deliberately or inadvertently avoided. Most importantly the redistributive actions necessary to address climate vulnerability and losses and damages often do not reach women and girls effectively.

If gendered losses and damages are symptoms, what is the treatment?

Addressing losses and damages in gender-responsive ways should include actions to correct the gender inequality and stereotyping which pervade climate action interventions and that are likely to affect mechanisms to address losses and damages. Also, we need to develop strategies that enable women to inform, shape, and lead ways to address losses and damages.

A recent study for the Adaptation Fund concluded that analyses of multi-dimensional and intersecting gendered vulnerabilities to climate change is essential for effective risk management for marginalized and vulnerable groups. The authors conclude that intersectional approaches help move from a singular focus on risk management towards more gender-responsive and transformative approaches.

A gender-responsive approach to addressing losses and damages should focus on three interdependent domains:

  • Redistribution through policies and programmes that enable women and girls to reduce their dependence upon climate vulnerable livelihood activities
  • Institutional changes that recognize that local level implementation of ways to address loss and damage require progressive gender policies and mechanisms to tackle gender inequalities. Ensuring implementation may require legislation
  • Empowering men and women to challenge and alter gendered institutions and leadership that cause greater climate vulnerability
  • Address gender gaps by considering how losses and damages can be addressed and delivered in ways that reflect men and women’s different priorities and needs
  • Ensure that women’s voices and concerns are considered and progress to the political and leadership changes necessary to institutionalize gender-responsive processes of inclusive governance

Addressing losses and damages in these ways can move us beyond gender-sensitive climate action and bring a focus on opportunities for increased equality and empowerment. Addressing losses and damages must take deliberate and measurable steps that identify, respond to and transform unequal gender relations and power structures.

A transformative approach to addressing losses and damages shifts the focus of action from making good on inequalities suffered to contesting the underlying social, political, and economic structures that impose marginalization and inequalities and result in gender differentiated losses and damages.


Originally this article was published on August 4, 2022  at Dhaka Tribune

Dr Simon Anderson is Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in Scotland. His work focuses on gender equality and climate justice.

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