Environment and Society in a Changing World

Gender and Climate Change


Why Focus on Women?

In Module 8, we learned about the relationship between identities and vulnerability regarding disasters. Marginalized populations are more vulnerable to change not by nature of who they are, but as a result of the hegemonic social conditions that produce and maintain their subordination. For example, women are not more vulnerable because they are women, but because they are marginalized in relation to men given society’s patriarchal norms. Additionally, similar to the escalation of disasters, humans play a role in the detrimental effects of climate change through local and international policies and practices (e.g. irrigation methods). Given that women are both more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and, as roughly half of the human population, play a significant role in the progression of climate change, it is critical that they have agency regarding climate change protection and mitigation efforts.

In this sub-module, we will 1) explore different approaches to incorporating gender into climate change policies, projects, and programs, 2) address some of the ways in which women from around the world are impacted by climate change, and 3) examine some of the steps that women are taking towards achieving environmental sustainability and climate change resilience.

Many of the points below are derived from the following two readings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Global Gender and Climate Alliance’s Roots for the Future: The Landscape and Way Forward on Gender and Climate Change:

Please review for more background on this topic!

Gender Sensitive vs. Gender Responsive vs. Gender Transformative Policies

There are three key approaches to incorporating gender into policies and projects: a gender sensitive approach, a gender responsive approach, and a gender transformative approach. A gender sensitive approach, otherwise known as a “do no harm” approach, entails “Understanding and taking into consideration socio-cultural factors underlying sex-based discrimination” (Oliva and Owren, 2015). A gender responsive approach, otherwise known as a “do-better” approach, is a more thorough integration of gender that entails “[i]dentifying, understanding, and implementing interventions to address gender gaps and overcome historical gender biases in policies and interventions” (Oliva and Owren, 2015). Taking a gender responsive approach one step further, a gender transformative approach entails focusing on gender as “central to a policy, programme or project, promoting gender equality as a priority and aiming to transform unequal relations, power structures, access to and control of resources, and decision-making spheres” (Oliva and Owren, 2015).

Consider a few of the case studies within Roots for the Future. Why are these case studies labeled as gender responsive rather than gender inclusive or gender transformative?

Gender Equity vs. Equality

Equity and equality are often conflated, but actually have two different meanings. The differences between equity and equality affect the intent of policies that incorporate these terms. Gender equality means that men and women are equivalently able to achieve their goals without hindrance caused by oppressive social structures and norms. For instance, a gender equality approach to hiring would require that men and women have the same opportunities to apply for and be considered for a job. However, this approach ignores the historical and lasting effects of gender-based oppression. While gender equality is a valuable aim, gender equity must occur first. Gender equity means that men and women have the same opportunities to achieve their goals, while taking into account the historical and lasting effects of gender-based oppression that gender equality ignores. For example, a gender equitable approach to hiring would require that men and women have the same opportunities to be considered for a job, while taking into account gendered reasons for employment gaps, e.g. to care for a family member, and different educational and employment pathways, e.g. the prioritization of men’s education and employment over women’s, that are often influenced by gendered policies and practices. While gender equity is essential to achieving gender equality, it is an ongoing process. Thus, when considering gender equality in relation to climate change related policies, measures towards achieving gender equity must constantly be integrated, re-worked, and assessed (Oliva and Owren, 2015).

Environmental Impacts on Women

Due to social and political norms, women tend to have less policy influence, greater care-giving roles, fewer opportunities to access educational, financial, and health resources, and an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault. As a result, climate change exacerbates already existing vulnerabilities for women and girls.

These issues are well demonstrated through the gender transformative UN Women Bangladesh climate change initiative. As program specialist Dilruba Haider explains, the increase in climate-change related disasters in Bangladesh has resulted in detrimental effects for women and girls in the country including “further violations of women’s rights and dignity, such as human trafficking, child marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour” (Haider, 2017). As Haider asserts, “Even simple things like lack of access to toilets impact women and girls disproportionately—during floods, men will often defecate in the open, while women wait until darkness falls, increasing their risk of Urinary Tract Infections and other health hazards, as well as sexual abuse” (Haider, 2017).

See pages 33-35 of “Roots for a More Equal and Sustainable Future” for more examples of how men and women are differentially impacted by climate change (Oliva and Owren, 2015).

Women’s Climate Change Resilience and Mitigation Efforts

Because women’s perspectives and experiences are often overlooked, women offer unique expertise regarding climate change mitigation efforts. Furthermore, women’s involvement in climate change initiatives results in improved outcomes. In Bangladesh, as part of UN Women’s 2017-2020 National Resilience Programme, women are pursuing disaster-resilient, non-traditional livelihoods, including “mele (a type of climate resilient reed) cultivation, growing floating vegetable gardens and pickle making” (Haider, 2017). While this initiative is most focused on mitigating the effects of cyclones and floods, other initiatives, such as the World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice, focus on mitigating the effects of droughts. The Water Global Practice has been taking a gender responsive approach to nutrition-sensitive water management. Within their initiatives, women’s feedback is essential for success. For instance, given differences between the physical height and strength and the home and child-rearing responsibilities that often differentiate men and women, women’s feedback regarding the types of water irrigation systems implemented and their locations is essential for these systems to have optimal effects. Additionally, when considering which crops to prioritize, given the norms that place unequal responsibility on women to cook and care for children, women tend to prioritize nutrient dense crops for the home rather than to sell in the market. Without including women’s input in water management, women and children are disproportionately at risk for experiencing nutrient deficiencies (Bryan, Chase, Shulte, 2019).

Works Cited

Haider, Dilruba. September 5, 2017. “Expert’s Take: When Building Climate Resilience, Women’s Needs Cannot Be an Afterthought.” UN Women. Accessed on November 20, 2020.

Oliva, Manuel J. and Owren, Cate. Roots for the Future. Ed. Aguilar, Lorena, Granat, Margaux, and Owren, Cate. Washington, DC: IUCN and GGCA, (2015): 14-45.

Bryan, Elizabeth, Chase, Claire, and Shulte, Mik. “Nutrition-Sensitive Irrigation and Water Management.” Washington, DC: Water Global Practice, (2019).