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OPINION: Gender and climate change – making the connections


Georgina Aboud is a gender convenor for BRIDGE based in the Knowledge Services team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). She has worked on a range of issues, including gender and climate change, migration and governance as well conducting election support work in Kosovo, Macedonia and Ukraine. You can follow her on twitter: @Georgie_Aboud

What are the gender dimensions of climate change? As a starting point, we know that women and men do not experience climate change equally. Pre-existing gender inequalities mean that neither their contributions to the carbon emissions responsible for climate change, nor the way that they experience its effects, are the same. In many developing countries economic constraints and cultural norms that restrict women’s access to paid employment mean that their livelihoods are particularly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as subsistence agriculture or water collection. Yet gender inequalities in the distribution of assets and opportunities mean that their choices are severely constrained in the face of climate change.

In addition, because women and girls are often responsible for most of the unpaid tasks around the household, their lives are directly affected by climate change impacts.  For example, they often have to walk further to find increasingly scarce food, fuel and water, which leaves them with less time for education, income generating activities or participation in community decision-making processes, further entrenching unequal gender relations.    Yet it is not only at the micro level that women are left out of decision-making – policy planning and international agreements processes have a long way to go before reaching gender parity, which means women’s voices  – and gender issues – remain muted or invisible.

BRIDGE has recently finished a two year Gender and Climate Change Programme, in collaboration with partners based in Paraguay, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Colombia and Germany – and a global community of practice. The key output, a Cutting Edge Pack, advocates addressing climate change by focusing more on people-centred, gender-aware approaches, policies and processes. The pack maps the key gender dimensions of climate change and provides insights into how responses can be transformative for women and communities at local, national and international level.

The Cutting Edge Pack advocates for an approach to climate change in which women and men have an equal voice in decision-making on climate change and broader governance processes and are given equal access to the resources necessary to respond to the negative effects of climate change; where both women’s and men’s needs and knowledge are taken into account and climate change policymaking institutions and processes at all levels are not biased towards men or women; and where the broad social constraints that limit women’s access to strategic and practical resources no longer exist.

It shows that there is much to learn from innovative, gender-aware approaches to climate change that are already happening at the local level, led by non-governmental organisations, communities and individuals. In some cases, these are leading to transformations in gender and social inequalities.

Generating stories of innovation and change from the field

The Community Awareness Centre (CAC) in India and FUNDAEXPRESIÓN in Colombia have both been able to raise awareness, empower women and create sustainable, gender aware, locally-owned and relevant solutions to climate change.

CAC in Bheerpani, a small organisation working in the remote central Indian Himalayas, contributed to shifts in gender roles and attitudes through its approach to developing local sustainable livelihoods solutions. Participatory exercises run by CAC helped local women to realise that protecting the forest to promote climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability was the responsibility of all people in the locality. Women also realised how little decision-making power they had in public matters and began to question this inequality. For one woman – a farmer and housewife in her late fifties called Parvati – this was a defining moment. Participating in workshops run by CAC on leadership, advocacy, empowerment, sustainable development and food security, gave her the confidence to stand for – and win – the leadership of the local Forest Panchayat (formal forest committee), becoming its first female head. The result of her leadership has led to greater participation of women in Forest Panchayats ,  a demand for financial transparency and the implementation of  rules and regulations which included fines for cutting even small branches from forest trees.

In the rural region of Santander Colombia, climate change forms part of and exacerbates a set of broader issues affecting its inhabitants. Mono-cropping of coffee and pineapple, deforestation, poor road infrastructure, and water pollution all compound the effects of the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. Through creating networks, women’s associations have formed strong alliances with organisations, including FUNDAEXPRESIÓN (a non governmental organisation that supports agro-ecology, food sovereignty and gender equality) the Agro- ecological Peasant School, the Community Network of Forest Reserves and the ingenious peoples movements, to share approaches on change adaptation and mitigation and promote alternative forms of living.

These community networks give local people and especially women, a great sense of belonging, self-determination and dignity to overcome challenges.  For example at the age of 20 and encouraged by her youth organisation, Laura joined the agro-ecological Peasant School. The School is a community network of organisations that provides a cost-free, flexible way of learning and exchanging information on agricultural practices, and is held every one or two months at different farms. Inspired by what she had learned, Laura became a key member of the Community Network of Forest Reserves, an association dedicated to working sustainably and conserving forests – an important aspect of tackling climate change. She has also motivated her family to begin agro-forestry farming practices on their 122 acre property, which has extensive Andean forest cover, and encouraged her community to think about mitigating the impacts of climate change and creating greater food autonomy.

The examples above show that, by empowering women, practical and sustainable climate change solutions can be found while contributing to the transformation of gender inequalities.

For more information on the pack please click here.

Image: A group working on ‘River of Life’ activity in Community Awareness Centre (CAC) / BRIDGE participatory workshop in Bheerapani a small, remote village in the Nainital district in the central Himalayas (credit: Georgina Aboud)

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