Placing Gender Front and Center in Climate Change

ImageToday in Durban, at the COP17 meetings, a side event was held that focused on the role of gender in vulnerability to climate change. The meeting focused specifically on adaptation, and was designed to challenge participants to think through how exploring gendered dimensions of climate vulnerability can actually improve climate adaptation policy and strategies.

But is climate change actually a gender issue? Indeed it is- and the differential impacts on women are stark. Women make up a disproportionate number of the poor worldwide, and rural women in particular are more dependent on natural resources for daily survival- resources that are threatened significantly by a changing climate. In most developing countries, women are responsible for 60-80% of all food production, and they are also the primary gatherers and users of household energy for cooking and heating. As climate change increases the frequency of droughts, reduces agricultural output and contributes to the rise of extreme weather events, women are on the front lines of climate vulnerability. This vulnerability extends into the health sector, making women particularly vulnerable to a range of health burdens spurred by climate change.

Yet, women have valuable knowledge, skills and social roles that position them as potentially powerful sources for positive change in the arenas of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Unfortunately, women’s leadership is sorely lacking in climate change negotiations: at last year’s COP16 meetings in Cancun, women comprised only 30% of all delegation parties, and just 15% of all heads of delegations. U.S. Congressmembers recognize the particular vulnerabilities women face in the context of climate change, and are advocating for increased women’s leadership in official negotiations. And a coalition of climate-focused gender groups known as Gender CC is working hard to effect the inclusion of gendered language and gender provisions in accessing climate funds. It’s about time.

Photo: Gates Foundation