Gender dimensions of climate change

Published: September 11, 2017
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The writer is a development professional

The writer is a development professional

Climate change is not gender neutral. Women and men have different needs, priorities, and possibilities in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Women have greater responsibility for subsistence activities, and environmental degradation severely affects their ability to perform their household tasks. Women’s and men’s knowledge and capacity to cope with the effects of climate change differ because of unequal access to finance, education, and information. Women and men perceive the risk of climate change differently, and gender influences how they identify and assess opportunities to respond to climate change. The impact and consequences of climate change affect women and girls in their roles, responsibilities, and opportunities.

Women are overrepresented in the informal sector worldwide, a sector that is acutely at risk from climate change and weather-related shocks. However, engaging with the informal sector has been largely ignored in climate change responses, despite the opportunities that could lead to innovation in adaptation and mitigation strategies, particularly for women. Equitable access to mitigation strategies remains a challenge for women, partly because of the technical nature of mitigation projects in sectors where the opportunities for women have traditionally been limited.

Women’s diverse productive and reproductive roles in natural resource use and management, conservation, energy provision and use, and urban development are affected by climate change. At the same time, because of the diverse roles they play, women have unique perspectives and skills that can strengthen the response to climate change. The impact of climate change on women’s lives can also heighten gender disparities and other vulnerabilities. Women’s work burden is increased as a consequence of water scarcity, increased pollution, soil and water salinity, and flooding. When there is water insecurity, women spend more time, energy, and resources securing water for the household, and devote more time to caring for family members with health problems stemming from water-borne diseases.

Climate change interventions aimed at providing affordable and safe drinking water, efficient irrigation technologies, and safe sanitation facilities, as well as preserving wetlands, must also take gender inequality into account. Rising sea levels have a wide-ranging negative and complex impact on women. For example, increased salinization due to climate change can lead to a range of health problems including women’s reproductive health conditions. When energy insecurity worsens or power supplies are disrupted because of climate change, women, who are responsible for household energy resources, are disproportionately affected.

Renewable energy presents multiple opportunities for women in their roles as consumers of renewable energy, as income earners and profit generators, as renewable energy entrepreneurs, and as employees in this growing sector. Women in rural areas are among those most affected by energy scarcity and related environmental degradation.

Renewable energy technologies can ease women’s workloads. However, women are more likely to benefit from employment in the energy sector only if there are wider socially progressive policies in place. Globally natural disasters kill more women than men. Climate-related disasters can worsen gender inequalities when they intersect with social, economic, cultural, and other conditions. Governments must strive to incorporate gender perspectives into their national policies, action plans and other measures on sustainable development and climate change. The consultation and participation of women in climate change initiatives must be ensured, and the role of women’s groups and networks strengthened.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2017.

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