Climate change adaptation: don’t forget about gender

Why climate change is sexist (and what we can do about it)

It’s important to recognise that women and men are affected differently by climate change — and it is usually women who are more adversely impacted. At the same time, women are not only differently vulnerable to climate change, but crucial in implementing adaptation solutions and building resilience. By systematically integrating an understanding of gender-specific concerns (and consequent solutions) into climate change policies, programmes and projects, we can help mitigate the detrimental effect of climate change on women, while also ensuring that women’s contribution to climate proofing sectors is best enabled.

The Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, funded by DFID and managed by OPM, attempts to integrate gender at the first level, policy making, and directly influence the second level: implementation. ACT works to reduce the effects of climate change in South Asia, where rapid population growth and urbanisation are likely to come hand in hand with higher temperatures, greater temperature extremes and erratic rainfall over the next few decades. Building on ACT’s experiences, here are the various steps we recommend for making sure gender is a key concern in climate change adaptation and planning processes:

1.) Understanding the issue

It is extremely crucial to understand how women are differentially vulnerable to climate change. Unequal access to resources, limited engagement in decision making and other social, economic and political barriers often lead to women being less able to adapt as necessary to the problems caused by climate change.

It’s important to capture these differences right at the beginning of project planning, to ensure subsequent interventions can be designed in a gender-sensitive way. Socio-economic vulnerability assessments can help to identify gender-specific vulnerabilities to climate change. For example, drought in Indian states such as Maharashtra and Bihar has increased the burden on women responsible for fetching vital natural resources, such as food, water and firewood.

2.) Specifically addressing and communicating the needs of women

Once the increased vulnerabilities faced by women in at-risk areas have been acknowledged, gender-specific solutions need to be identified.

We must look at ways that gender-related concerns can be mainstreamed; that is, integrated into policy decisions, and not considered a niche issue or afterthought. After all, without political buy-in, change is unlikely to happen. This requires effective communication — it is crucial to tailor explanations of gender inclusion strategies based on local context, and aligned to the priorities of government partners. In Assam, ACT has dedicated a significant period of time to discussion with the government, sensitising them to the need to mainstream gender in urban flood management and climate resilient agriculture strategies.

National and provincial plans such as the National Adaptation Plan and State Action Plans on Climate Change provide a good entry point for including gender in adaptation strategies across various sectors and departments. In India, for example, SAPCCs of states such as Chhattisgarh and Bihar have specific chapters on gender and climate change which can be used as a good starting point for implementation of recommendations. Furthermore,simplifying the concept of gender mainstreaming and building it in other governmental development activities can be useful. In Afghanistan, for example, we have helped the government to mainstream gender and climate change in the country’s Natural Resource Management Strategy.

3.) Recognising women’s vital contribution

It is important not to consider women solely as passive victims of the effects of climate change. Women are vital partners in driving and delivering the adaptation solutions needed to increase the resilience of communities, as Aditi Kapoor has observed.

It is also crucial to understand that women critically contribute to specific sectors, and their absence exacerbated due to climate change can lead to sectoral economic losses change. For instance, vulnerability to climate change can affect the engagement of women labour in Assam’s tea sector, which has broader economic implications upon the tea industry.

4.) Budgeting with gender in mind

Recognising and communicating both the vulnerabilities and contributions of women is essential, but often financial provision is also vital. Gender budgeting can be used as an important tool to allocate resources for implementing gender-specific adaptation actions. In 2008–09, the Bihar government introduced a gender sensitive budget in 10 departments, with 15% of the budget allocated for special focus on the socio-economic development of women. By 2011–12, the number of departments incorporating budgetary allocation for women had increased to 16, and the more this rises, the greater impact a government can achieve in mainstreaming gender across sectoral development initiatives.

By following these steps, we can help combat the existing imbalance of vulnerabilities faced by women in the current climate — but these measures can only remain relevant with monitoring and evaluation over time. Once gender-specific goals have been properly established, we can continue to capture the lessons learned and, in partnership with those affected, implement nuanced measures to ensure continuous, sustainable and context-specific improvements.

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