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FEATURE: An approach to empowering women through climate compatible development


Beatrice Mosello, CDKN Project Officer, says every day should be an ‘International day’ of women in climate compatible development.

International Women’s Day is the perfect occasion to celebrate women, and to consider their position in the global debate on development, poverty eradication and climate change. While we believe that this should be common practice rather than a one day exception, let’s embrace the event. March 8th provides the opportunity for some focused reflection on how gender has (or has not) been integrated into thinking on climate compatible development, and what the next steps should be.

These days, researchers, practitioners and decision-makers alike recognise that climate change can have deep impacts on women and girls. It is also widely acknowledged that responses to climate change could either improve their lives or significantly disadvantage them.

CDKN has recently launched a new project on “Integrating gender and climate finance: a step on the road to climate compatible development”. Our goal is to investigate whether and how the incorporation of a gender analysis in national and international climate finance initiatives can help achieve development results that are sustainable, low-carbon, and equitable.  But let’s take one step back and analyse why this type of research is needed in the first place, and what it could contribute to climate change policy and action.

In recent years, conversations on gender have picked up in the international climate finance arena. This is a consequence (and recognition) of the clear nexus that exists among climate change, development, and gender issues. Recently, for instance, the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) Gender Review called upon recipient countries to, inter alia: harmonise and institutionalise gender more effectively; acknowledge and employ gender as a driver for transformational change; and address the need for further knowledge, innovation and cooperation. At the national level, climate-dedicated funds have started to place growing emphasis on the linkages between gender and climate change, although mostly as a consequence of donor-driven pressures and requests.

The discourse on gender and climate change has tended to focus on women’s greater vulnerability to negative climate impacts. It has been argued that women are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and climate change, especially where their rights and socio-economic status are not equal to those of men. While this statement is not contestable, recent research has also demonstrated that the empowerment of women is an important ingredient in building climate resilience, and that low-emissions development pathways can be more effective and more equitable if they are designed from an informed gender perspective.

Women as a group tend to be the least considered by environmental financing mechanisms, because of women’s generally reduced (or lack of) access to capital and markets, their unrecognised and uncompensated contributions to social care, their lack of legal protection and ownership rights, together with cultural and societal biases against their engagement in learning, political participation and decision-making processes. Indeed, these are the same barriers that impede women’s development all over the world.

The reality is that women and men have different capabilities to address the present and future impacts of climate change and mitigate against them. Therefore, the financing instruments and mechanisms committed to climate change activities in mitigation and adaptation should take these gender-differentiated impacts into account in fund design and operationalisation, as well as in project financing.

Essentially, what would be required is a transformation in the way gender and climate change links are being investigated: researchers should focus more on the gains to climate compatible development that could be achieved by integrating gender dimensions into climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

CDKN’s climate finance project aims precisely at filling this gap by proposing a theoretical framework that shifts away from the current focus on vulnerabilities and investigates instead how women’s empowerment across multiple domains might enhance climate-related outcomes.  The project aims to develop concrete recommendations and identify practical tools to help pilot countries and project teams integrate gender into their work on climate compatible development; and to increase decision-makers’ access to state-of-the art knowledge about gender and climate change issues.

It will be crucial to provide the empirical basis to justify why a gender analysis is required to inform climate finance initiatives and projects—and what can be gained from this exercise. Most of the literature to date has been devoted to highlighting that gender-related considerations have been broadly missed by current climate finance initiatives; but few concrete recommendations have been provided to move things forward. “Success stories” of how gender concerns have been integrated not only in adaptation initiatives, but also and especially in mitigation ones, would be beneficial to fill this gap.

The existing methodology of gender budget analysis may be a helpful tool in this endeavour. Gender budget analysis involves studying state budget from a gender equality point of view. It was pioneered by feminist groups in the Australian government in the 1980s, and later replicated in South Africa and the UK. It could well be transferred to climate finance initiatives and projects being piloted by developing and emerging countries, as well as to multilateral donor initiatives.

Finally, this endeavour needs to be underpinned by principles of ‘universal human rights for women in country- and culture-specific context’.  There are some universal rights that should be seen as inviolable: such as the right to freedom from violence, which affect many segments of the female population worldwide and whose resolution delivers robust development in its own right and contributes to climate compatible development. These are the fundamentals.

Beyond this, we need to reflect carefully on what gender equality means for climate compatible development, what are the most appropriate policies to address it, and how much money their implementation will require. Naturally, conclusions will vary a great deal depending on the region and country we consider, as socio-economic, cultural and political considerations naturally play a fundamental role in the gender-climate change-development equation. A special effort must be made to avoid focusing on stereotypes of gender-sensitive climate actions, and instead use a coherent methodology to identify what added value could be achieved from public investments. CDKN’s project on gender and climate finance is a first step in this direction, but more efforts are needed from all concerned stakeholders, from international organisations to national and sub-national governments, researchers and the civil society.

Gender equality must be a core development outcome of climate financing. More generally, the empowerment of disadvantaged groups in society (including, but not solely, women and girls) is an essential ingredient for truly achieving climate compatible development.

Watch our project pages for more news on CDKN’s gender and climate finance project in the coming months.

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