Climate change affects women more profoundly than men. Often, women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power, especially in developing countries.
Because of cultural barriers and their lower economic status, women often have fewer assets to fall back on than men. They are largely absent from decision-making because of unequal participation in leadership roles – further compounding their vulnerability. So when it comes to coping with climate change, women usually have fewer adaptive strategies than men.
The women who live in poor rural communities use natural resources in a different way than men because they possess fewer assets. It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, growing food – or foraging for it – making them more vulnerable to the climatic changes that affect these resources. So the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics when it develops climate change policies and puts them into action.
International recognition – where are we now?
International frameworks are beginning to incorporate a gender dimension into action on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasises gender balance and increased participation of women in its processes and in national delegations. It also calls for the development of gender responsive climate policies at all levels.
Gender is also getting more attention at climate change conferences. In 2014, at COP20 in Lima, a Programme of Action on Gender was established ‘to advance implementation of gender-responsive climate policies’. The Paris Agreement of 2015 acknowledged the importance gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action. In 2017, COP23 established a Gender Action Plan. So there is forward momentum.
And with developing countries calling for more money to address climate change, there is also an increasing emphasis on gender-responsive budgeting. The Green Climate Fund – the largest international fund for countering climate change – is shifting towards a more gender-sensitive approach and recently developed a Gender Policy and Action Plan.
The Commonwealth, gender and climate change
The Commonwealth has a long history of championing small states, women and young people. In 2015, the Commonwealth Summit introduced a Women’s Forum to amplify the voice of women and raise key gender issues to leaders. Gender and climate change issues gained further momentum at the 2018 Summit in London, when heads of government committed to accelerating action to achieve targets under the Paris Agreement and the Women’s Forum called for the Commonwealth to take gender into account in addressing climate change.
Gender and climate change is one of four gender priorities of the Commonwealth. That means the Commonwealth is shaping its work to reflect gender considerations. However, more can be done to build on synergies and collaborate with partners to increase support to small and vulnerable states.
The urgency of climate change requires more progress at a greater pace. Increasing the participation and engagement of women in addressing it is a first and critical step. I look forward to seeing progress and will follow discussions on the Gender Action Plan at COP24 in Poland later this week. Even more important will be the first report on its implementation in 2019 because – as they say – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Sharing experiences and learning from what is already happening is important in understanding gaps and challenges and in developing better responses and strategies, so I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are there challenges and lessons learned that you feel are important and that can shape the agenda moving forward, especially in the Commonwealth?