We have come a long way from questioning “why gender in climate change actions.” To quickly recapitulate the criticality of gender in climate actions: Vulnerability and capacity with regards to disaster and climate change impacts are related to power and privileges.
Women and marginalized groups are at the bottom of the power structure and have the least power, privileges, and resources; and therefore much less capacity to mitigate risks and shocks. Due to their socio-economic and cultural differences, women, men, girls, boys, and gender diverse groups experience risks and shocks differently; for example, violence, early marriage, and lack of reproductive health care during and after disasters are risks for female groups; while during disasters, people with diverse sexual orientation are barred from entering shelters.
Climate change affects different geographical areas and communities differently. As the poorest countries and the most vulnerable people within those countries like women, girls, and gender diverse groups suffer the most, while they have been contributing the least to the climate crisis, climate justice is becoming a clarion call of developing countries. Simply saying climate justice means the poorest countries, and people should be supported by those who have contributed most to climate change.
Climate justice and gender equity are inextricably linked. Climate justice focuses on the needs of the most marginalized groups who rely on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods. Women, girls, and gender diverse groups fall into that category, so focusing climate actions on and with these groups is a critical aspect of climate justice.
The scientific projections of an increase in average global temperatures, even if global emission targets are met, mean that the environment (ecosystems and the way people interact with them) will face permanent changes. Agro-economy based women and men increasingly face the challenges of having to adapt their production systems in the context of climate change and natural resource depletion.
It’s constantly changing, what (crops and forests) grows where, which livestock and fish will be viable, sea level rise and ocean acidification, whether water supplies can be sustained, vector borne diseases such as malarial, dengue, and plant pests moving into newly-warmer regions. These would have a slower impact than the extreme weather events, and require long term adaptation responses. Without analyzing the gender elements of these climate change impacts, and without participation and leadership of women, adaptation efforts for these slow impacts run the risk of being inadequate.
It’s quite evident that women and girls are underrepresented in advancing climate actions across all levels and sectors, from national to community level planning, in the public sector, climate finance, or clean energy. The Conference of Parties (COP) annual report on women’s engagement in progress towards meeting the goal of gender balance in advancing gender-sensitive climate policy has been showing an erratic trend, but mostly siding in terms of women’s membership in various constituted bodies of the UNFCCC.
The Action Coalitions of Generation Equality forum was launched in 2021, bringing together all stakeholders for collective actions in six thematic areas for accelerating gender equality and women’s rights across the developmental spectrum. The Feminist Action for Climate Justice is one of those, which unequivocally declares that “environmental sustainability is inextricably linked to social justice and gender equality.” The Feminist Action for Climate Justice proposes four specific Actions to be attained by 2026:
- Increase Direct Action to financing for gender just climate solutions, especially for women and girls at grass root level; 88% of all climate investments to be geared towards that;
- Enable women and girls to lead a just transition to an inclusive, circular, and regenerative, green economy. Women’s agencies, particularly women’s organizations, engagement in this respect is crucial;
- Build the resilience of women and girls to climate impacts, disaster risks, loss and damage, including through land right and tenure security. Women’s economic empowerment is indeed critical for their resilience;
- Increase the collection and use of data on the gender environment nexus; at least 20 countries by 2026 to achieve the target.
In Bangladesh, there has been some advancement in addressing women’s issues at climate change policies and plans. The draft Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP), a prospective plan until 2030, is a people centric economic development plan against the climate change impacts that the country is enduring already. Of the four broad-head actions in the plan, two commit to be gender responsive, one on “growth,” the other on “employment and green economy.”
In the area of disaggregated data, Bangladesh has been progressing well. With UN Women’s support, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has been working on preparing tools and collecting sex, age, disability disaggregated data for environment, disaster, and climate change.
UN Women has recently conducted a study on gender and climate change policies which shows that Bangladesh has strong stand-alone policies separately in climate change and gender equality. There was an attempt to mainstream gender through the Climate Change & Gender Action Plan (ccGAP, 2013), but there is no evidence of uptake of the plan by the governments or other stakeholders.
Currently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is updating the ccGAP, with support from UN Women, hoping to turn the plan into action. Significant challenges were limited capacity to mainstream gender into policies and actions, lack of investment in gender-responsive adaptation actions, and very limited access to women’s organizations and women in decision-making.
The adaptation policies and plans acknowledge the role of gender, but mitigation discourse seldom refers to gender aspects. Critical sectors for climate change adaptation like agriculture, water resources, or forestry policies and strategies do not pay heed to gender equality. Lack of monitoring mechanism or evaluation framework and indicators only perpetuates gender insensitivity of the climate change adaptation and mitigation actions.
At the community level, women have not been deterred, however, by the lack of gender-responsive adaptation policies or actions. They have been living, fighting and adapting to the grim climatic impacts on their own; be it in unusual floods carrying out their chores on raised platforms in their houses, or raising poultry and goats or plant vegetable in raised patches of land within their homesteads, or adopting low-cost drip irrigation methods for their kitchen garden to save precious water in salinity stricken coastal areas. Women have inherent capacity and resilience that sustain their families and communities.
Gender equality strengthens our collective capacity to tackle the climate crisis. Feminist action for climate justice is therefore crucial, and advocating for women and girls’ rights should be central to our climate actions.
Disclaimer: The content and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author herself, not of UN Women.
Originally this article was published on April 11, 2022 at Dhaka Tribune.
Dilruba Haider is the Programme Specialist, Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change, and Humanitarian Actions in UN Women.