The big question: Why is gender central to climate change action?

Source(s)
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

You may have heard that women and girls are disproportionally affected by climate change, and often underrepresented in decision making. And while the conversation between gender and climate change often ends there, the work on gender and climate action encompasses so much more. To help us delve deeper, the UNFCCC’s gender team answer some of the most common questions.

Why is there a Gender and Climate Change team?

Broadly speaking, the UNFCCC gender team’s task is to help countries ensure that “gender is taken into account” in climate change planning and action.  The gender team supports negotiations and facilitates the international community in moving towards gender-responsive climate action. Let's break this down some more.  

What do we mean when we talk about taking gender into account?  

Gender is about the social attributes and opportunities associated with, for example, being male and female, and the relationships between different genders of all ages. These social norms affect everyone. ‘Taking gender into account’ means understanding why certain people are more vulnerable, or engage in specific behaviours, or are over- or underrepresented in a specific sector. Before we develop or deploy a technology, adopt a policy or initiate a project, we should ask questions such as:  

  • Do we understand how this will affect different people?   
  • Are those affected, or their perspectives, included in the design or decision making? 
  • Do we know if it is likely to shift our norms towards greater equality?    

Do women and men experience climate change differently?  

How somebody experiences climate change depends on multiple factors: their access to and ownership of resources, capital and land, and their expectations and roles in society and the economy. These are factors determined through social norms, laws and customs. While in many situations climate change affects women disproportionality, women – or men – are not a homogenous group and therefore generalizations are unhelpful. 

So, gender is not about women in rural areas fetching water?  

In many areas of the world without water piped to premises, women and girls are responsible for collecting water. And, if we do not address the effects of climate change on rural water scarcity, women and girls in these areas will have to walk even longer to collect water. This has a number of knock-on effects, including less time to earn independent income or go to school, as well as increasing the risk of them experiencing violence or injury. But, gender norms affect everyone everywhere, including women in cities as well as men. Consider these examples of how social norms contribute to the different realities for different groups. 

  • Research has shown that when pollution levels are higher, the gender gap in formal working hours rises, as women disproportionally took on the (additional) unpaid domestic and care work, such as caring for family members who are affected by air pollution-associated illnesses.  
  • Other research shows that during several hurricanes in the US, men were more likely to die than women, which can partly be explained by men’s higher representation in emergency response jobs, and their higher engagement in risky behaviour such as driving in flood water or staying to protect their property. 

If gender is for everyone, why do we often hear about women getting a seat at the table? 

Well-documented systemic discrimination and devaluing of women across society has resulted in, among other things, their persistent underrepresentation in many decision-making arenas. Yet, women’s equal contribution to climate-related decision-making is a right. Importantly, it also increases the effectiveness of decisions. For five examples on why climate action needs women, click here.  But of course, women’s increased representation will not automatically ensure that gender is taken into consideration. This requires ‘gender expertise,’ which can be acquired by any person regardless of their gender. 

How can we ensure that climate actions takes gender into account?  

Let’s look at one example: a climate-related initiative undertaken by Chile’s Ministry of Transport and Telecommunication, to increase cycling in the city. An analysis in 2012 revealed that only 10% of cyclists in Santiago were women and that quadrupling the cycle lanes in the city between 2007 and 2012 saw no increase in the number of female cyclists. Further analysis identified that this was because women didn’t know how to cycle, or did know, but were afraid to cycle in the city. Cycling classes were set up for both groups resulting in the number of female cyclists rising to 37%. Such analysis can be applied to any aspect of climate action, leading to more effective climate outcomes. 

Great, so we have covered it all? 

Not even close! Gender norms are a function of multiple other factors such as a person’s economic situation, social status or ethnicity, and these all impact how someone is positioned in society, and how climate change will affect them. It is important to take all these factors into account when it comes to designing and implementing climate policies and action, as well as when it comes to financing and measuring them.   

We need everybody involved to build a climate-safe and fair tomorrow! 

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