Blog: Climate change is not gender neutral – integrate gender equality in response

15 March 2022
News
Woman in a field

A blog by Sharon Ng’etich, Climate Change Officer – Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development Directorate (EYSD)

Climate change is not gender neutral. It affects men and women differently, with profound adverse effects on women due to existing social inequalities. Because climate change exacerbates these inequalities, it is therefore the vulnerable groups within societies who suffer the most from its negative impacts.

The societal roles and responsibilities attributed to women mean they often have less access to resources and information and are less included in decision making, political participation and power structures. This results in women having lower adaptive capacities to cope with the impacts of a changing climate and as such they face disproportionate negative impacts compared to men.

Despite this, women continue to play an important role in the response to climate change.

Mainstreaming gender

Consequently, mainstreaming of gender equality in all climate policies, strategies and targets is critical to ensuring more effective, inclusive and sustainable climate action that takes into account the different way in which climate change affects different groups and in particular the disproportionate burden on women.

It is for this reason why the main global governance framework for climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), recognises the need for equal involvement of men and women, and has a particular Convention agenda item on gender and climate change.

The historic Paris Agreement references the need for gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action, further noting that adaptation action and capacity building should be gender responsive. Furthermore, to advance gender responsive climate action in UNFCCC processes and implementation, in 2014, the Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) was established which was extended to a 5-year enhanced LWPG and a gender action plan adopted at COP 25.

Integrating gender equality in NDCs

The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the climate action commitments and targets made by countries under the Paris Agreement, are the driving force for national climate action through the UNFCCC mechanism. It is therefore imperative that NDCs are also gender responsive.

The year 2020 marked the milestone period (delayed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) when countries were to update and submit their revised NDCs. Thus, it also marked an opportune time to enhance gender considerations in climate priorities for the next five years.

Commonwealth countries made great strides in mainstreaming gender equality in their revised NDCs, and within the Commonwealth there are good practice examples we can learn from.

An analysis, by the Commonwealth Secretariat, of the extent of gender integration in revised NDCs by Commonwealth countries found a 34% increase in the integration of gender in revised NDCs compared with the original Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Best practice examples of gender responsive NDCs were seen in the NDCs of Canada, Kenya, Vanuatu, Rwanda and Fiji among other countries.

Challenges and opportunities

However, despite this commendable progress, there still remain challenges, gaps and opportunities for improvement towards meaningful integration of gender equality in NDCs and other climate action policies and strategies.

One major gap found in NDCs is the low incorporation of gender considerations in specific sectors, particularly in biodiversity, water, forestry and sustainable land management sectors. This gap is particularly significant given the different relationship women have with natural resources compared to men, especially in countries where livelihoods depend heavily on natural resources. It is women for instance, that are responsible for collecting firewood and water, making them more vulnerable to the climatic impacts that affect these resources.

Initiatives such as the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) play a crucial role in addressing such gaps and advancing integration of gender equality in climate action. CCFAH mainstreams gender, in the support it provides to Commonwealth countries to improve their access to sector specific climate finance. It also offers technical assistance to access climate finance for dedicated projects on gender and climate change.

Women as change agents

A good example of this support is in Jamaica, St Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda. In Jamaica, CCFAH helped secure a grant worth of US$270,000 of climate finance to integrate gender into the country’s climate action planning and strengthen coordination and involvement of women’s organisations.

In Saint Lucia, CCFAH supported Saint Lucia to secure funding, from the Enabling Gender-Responsive Disaster Recovery, Climate and Environmental Resilience in the Caribbean Project (EnGenDER), to establish baselines of gender needs by sector.

And in Antigua and Barbuda, on-going assistance is being provided by CCFAH to develop a proposal, valued at approximately US$10 million, to support a gender-responsive approach to the redevelopment of TVET (technical vocational education and training) programmes.

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, provided us with yet another chance to reflect on these issues and bring to the fore that enhancing and integrating gender equality in climate action is essential in the fight against climate change.

It must begin in policies, strategies and commitments, which while recognising women’s unique vulnerabilities, must also position women as the great change agents that they are in climate action.

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