Fight against climate change — a lost cause without women

Often, women are predominant in populations characterised as poor, refugees and/or rural

Zarlasht Kamran November 04, 2023
The writer is a MPhil Development Studies student. She can be contacted on


According to the UN, 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. Thus the fight against climate change and the fight for gender equality go hand in hand.

Often, women are predominant in populations characterised as poor, refugees and/or rural. These factors tend to exacerbate, for them, problems caused by climate change (low harvests, flooding, heatwaves, etc). The UNFCCC says women’s traditional roles have direct engagement with climate-related factors. For eg, as primary caregivers and homemakers, women have to be involved with water and energy commodities that power households.

Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development is an essential frame of reference for this intersection. Vandana Shiva, the author of the book, outlines the role women have played as “custodians of nature” and “agents of change”. She explains that self-sufficiency of indigenous agricultural practices is essential for restoration of ecological integrity and this directly relates to women. In the Global South, women are active participants of rural systems. The UNFCCC says women make up nearly half of the labour force in agriculture sectors of developing countries.

Women also participate in sustainable practices other than agriculture. It is a common practice in South Asia to reuse, recycle and upcycle clothes. High-quality clothes are passed through generations and seasonal clothes are given away as hand-me-downs, shared among the women in the family, or given as charity. Also, women tend to reuse packaging, such as ice cream buckets, for storing food.

The COPs have consistently been considering gender. One of the outcomes of these deliberations is the Gender Action Plan (published in April 2023). The plan focuses on gender-responsive climate action and synthesising it with the UNFCCC itself to ensure women’s full participation in the UNFCCC processes. In terms of SDGs, both climate action and gender equality are part of the goals, which again highlight their individual importance as goals and their joint importance as part of the 2030 Agenda (which has inter-connected goals).

‘Leave No One Behind’ is the main pledge of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, as it aims to end discrimination and inequalities. Thus it is important that both climate and gender are discussed, both in separation and in tandem, as climate change and gender inequality both lead to discrimination and inequalities. They have to be combated on local, national and global levels to achieve the original purpose of the Agenda and its SDGs.

UNDP statistics tell us that compared to men, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disaster. Of the 230,000 killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, 70% were women. The World Bank says male farmers are less likely to be as badly affected by disasters as female farmers because small-scale farming is usually their only source of income and many rural women do not have the stability of bank accounts. The UNDP gives a similar women-centric solution as Vandana Shiva — local skills, traditional knowledge and existing systems that may support communities during disasters. This is expected to increase resilience.

If women are aware and resilient, so will their communities. Climate-aware mothers can raise climate-aware children. Communities bounce back faster when their women bounce back fast. Women’s role in preparing for disasters and then participating in recovery cannot be undermined.

The earth is a system. All its parts are connected and interdependent. Women are an essential part of this system: as mothers, caregivers, leaders and innovators. To quote Vandana Shiva, “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” Our collective future is dependent on this acknowledgement that gender and climate are connected and deeply important for each other. All stakeholders and policy circles must strive to synthesise the two, because either of them at risk is a risk for the health and prosperity of our collective future.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2023.

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