Climate action from a gender perspective: A systematic review of the impact of climate policies on inequality

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Women conduct a disaster risk assessment in a rural village in Lao PDR.
Women conduct a disaster risk assessment in a rural village in Lao PDR.

This systematic review highlights the scarcity of research integrating a gender perspective into climate policy impact assessments and calls for more gender-sensitive analyses and the application of feminist theory to address this gap.

In 1992 the United Nations (UN) committed to promoting a gender perspective in all environmental and development programs and to establishing mechanisms for assessing the impact of environmental policies on women. However, 30 years later most countries acknowledge that they have not integrated that perspective into policy assessments.

This paper provides the first systematic literature review of the impacts of climate policies on inequality from a gender perspective. The review finds a limited number of studies (29 papers) published primarily in the last four years, with a notable lack of quantitative analysis and ex-ante impact assessments. The review reveals that gender is often treated as an additional variable without considering key aspects such as power relations and intersectionality, and that the gender perspective is more absent in men-led studies.


Research to date shows that climate change affects women more severely even though their consumption patterns mean that they have contributed to a lesser extent to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Women are more dependent on domestic energy and public transport since they spend more time on care tasks within their homes and lower rates of private vehicle ownership. In addition, they are more likely to suffer from energy poverty and have more difficulties investing in more sustainable alternatives, such as renewable energy or energy efficiency, due to their lower income.

At international level, the UN has played a fundamental role in including the gender dimension in environmental policies. At European level, numerous calls have also been made to integrate gender mainstreaming into all legislation, policies, and instruments related to climate action. However, despite the demands of the EU Parliament and the UN, the gender dimension of environmental policies has not been addressed in depth in the international and European policy until relatively recently. International and EU development policies have integrated gender equality and environmental sustainability issues in parallel processes, but not in an integrative or comprehensive way.

There is a need to understand what the main impacts of different climate policies on gender are, and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to understand the state of the art in this area, both in the academic and political framework. This paper tries to fill that gap by providing the first systematic review of the existing literature on the impacts of climate policies on inequality from a gender perspective. The aim of the study is to provide an analysis of the state of the art on this area, and to try to understand the gaps and barriers for the effective inclusion of gender mainstreaming in environmental policy assessments.


This study provides a systematic literature review based on the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) approach. The PRISMA approach is characterized by its systematization, transparency, and reproducibility.

We used different inclusion criteria to identify potential papers for assessment. To cover as much literature as possible we searched for papers in English and Spanish on Scopus and the Web of Science, the two main scientific citation databases, which contain over 169 million records. We set 1992 as the first year for research.

29 papers that met all the pre-defined inclusion criteria (detailed in the original article) were identified and included in the study.

Key results

  • Although our search dates back to 1992, all the papers included were published after 2009 and most are from the last 3 years (2019--2021) and the first 3 months of 2022.
  • It seems to be a topic that sparks more interest among female researchers: in 69 % of the papers found the first author is female. It should also be noted that most of the few papers whose first author is a man do not integrate a gender perspective.
  • There is a greater trend towards mitigation studies, since 66% of the papers study mitigation measures, 17% adaptation measures, and 17% both mitigation and adaptation measures.
  • Most of the papers use qualitative methods (55%) and mixed methods (24%) that combine qualitative and quantitative techniques in their analyses. The lack of quantitative analysis in analyzing the socioeconomic impacts of climate policies with a gender perspective is worth highlighting, since these are necessary to complement the information collected in qualitative studies.
  • 55% of the papers assess policies or strategies for mitigation and adaptation to climate change after they have been implemented, i.e. they give an ex-post assessment of policies. Only five of the case studies analyzed (17%) provide an ex-ante assessment.
  • Only 12% of studies focused on high income countries. 60% of the literature reviewed focuses on low or lower-middle income countries, analyzing the socioeconomic implications of the different mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change in this context. 12% refer to upper-middle income countries and the remaining 17% of the papers draw no distinction between countries, since they have a universal focus.
  • Most papers do not take an intersectional approach and few of those that do so mention the concept of intersectionality. The socioeconomic categories most widely integrated into the analyses in the papers analyzed are the following: class/income (93%), education/profession (72%), age (59%), and race/ethnicity (45%). However, there is a lack of attention to certain categories associated with groups that are in a situation of discrimination, such as sexual orientation/identity and functional diversity (found in only 10% of the papers).
  • 41% of the papers considered implicitly or explicitly mention or acknowledge the existence of power relations that place women at a disadvantage to men, none of them look in depth at the causes and consequences of gender inequality.
  • Only five of the papers explicitly indicate gender mainstreaming as necessary to enable efficient and inclusive mitigation and adaptation strategies. Although the recommendation to include a gender perspective in all phases of climate policy has been continually repeated by international and national organizations since 1992, the concept of gender mainstreaming has not yet penetrated deeply into academia in this area.
  • Only 31% of the papers actually include the gender perspective in their analysis (high integration degree).

Implications and conclusions

The analysis of the papers included in the study has brought to light several knowledge and methodological gaps. First, there are few quantitative studies that seek to determine the scope of the impacts of climate policies from a gender perspective. This is closely linked to a lack of adequate methodologies and sex-disaggregated data. In future work it would be interesting to develop new methodologies that enable such quantitative studies to be conducted with a gender-sensitive approach. In addition, studies generating primary data should ensure that the data is disaggregated by gender and other social categories to incorporate an intersectional approach in the analyses. Furthermore, more research should be conducted in high-income countries, as there is a tendency to focus analyses of climate change and gender almost exclusively on LMICs, a gap identified in the literature as a shortcoming in gender-sensitive research.

The study results point to a lack of integration of the feminist discourse in climate policy research. Feminist theorists and academics have been theorizing for decades about the causes, consequences, and factors that have historically influenced the inequality suffered by women. Feminists have been pointing to factors, systems, experiences, and realities that perpetuate the oppression of women for centuries, but the androcentrism present in science seems to have prevented these theories and concepts from being deeply integrated into research for a long time. For example, the study shows that there are still very few papers that develop the concept of intersectionality and consciously apply this approach. 

There is also evidence of a disconnect between political and academic discourse in the field. International organizations have been emphasizing the need to introduce gender mainstreaming into environmental policy since the 1990s, but even today a lack of information and methodologies makes this task difficult. It is important for science to respond to political needs in a way that helps policymakers make well-informed decisions based on scientific knowledge to continue moving towards a fair, inclusive net carbon economy. In this sense, it would be interesting to apply a co-production model in science-policy interactions in future research activities to generate more useful, more effective knowledge and methodologies for improving policy formulation processes.

It is also necessary to diversify the scope of studies and cease to contribute to the discourse that re-victimizes and highlights the vulnerability of women in the global south; research must be conducted in which all women have their own voice.

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