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OPINION: Gender sensitive and climate smart: how, what, why?


Rebecca McNaught, Senior Climate Advisor for Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre argues that while women are vulnerable to climate change, they could play a vital role in reducing risk in their communities and nations.

Women are depicted as vulnerable to climate change, and in many parts of the world this is all too true. Recognising differences in women’s access to resources, education, legal protection, decision-making and power helps us understand how these inequalities can make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Lower levels of education and literacy of some women can limit their access to important information and support to prepare for disasters or adapt to climate change.

Women and girls typically take responsibility for fetching water when supply is poor, and this can take hours out of their day, reducing time for education, employment, childcare and rest. When relatives become sick because of poor hygiene, it is also women and girls who bear the greatest burden of care.

Many development agencies have noted that women tend to have lower rates of decision-making and participation in disaster management activities. Yet, they are often severely affected.

Women’s multiple roles as food producers and providers, as guardians of health and as carers mean that climate-related hazards such as drought and erratic rainfall can be a heavy burden. In other words, when women’s traditional gender roles combine with changing extremes and adverse climate trends, vulnerability deepens.

Recognising differences in women’s access to resources, education, legal protection, decision-making and power helps us understand how these inequalities can make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Decreasing rainfall in parts of Africa can increase their workload and expose them to injury or attack as they walk further and further to fetch water. But with the majority of the world’s population now living in urban areas, the effect on women in these areas is also of great significance.

The global proportion of urban dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050, while slum dwellers make up more than 828 million people or 33% of the world’s urban population. They experience varying deprivations and risks, which can include a lack of durable housing, overcrowding, insufficient access to clean water, poor sanitation, and threats of forced evictions. Women and girls, especially those heading households, often suffer the worst effects.

When urban design and services—including water, sanitation, transport and markets—address gender discrimination and promote equal opportunities, greater health, social and economic benefits can be achieved.

Recognising differences in women’s access to resources, education, legal protection, decision-making and power helps us understand how these inequalities can make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Women’s resilience

While it is evident that some women will be more vulnerable to climate change, it is also important to note that women are key actors in implementing positive change.

Women can and do contribute to disaster management and the creation of resilient communities through research and can play a strong role in mobilising communities in post-crisis reconstruction; their contributions should be further encouraged.

Programmes that include gender respond better to the needs of men and women; climate-smart programmes are no different, recognizing the different impacts of climate change on men and women as well as the relative disempowerment of women, and transforming the disadvantages they face.

Minimum standards for local climate-smartDRR that is sensitive to gender

The minimum standards for local climate-smart DRR, developed with CDKN support, have made an important contribution to national and local efforts to adapt to a changing climate and strengthen the resilience of communities.

The minimum standards are practical, achievable approaches to implementing climate-smart DRR. National actorscan use them to incorporate local community action on DRR into national climate change adaptation. Local actors and their counterparts in government and civil society can use them as a practical tool, integrating climate risks into their efforts to help communities reduce the impacts of extreme weather and disasters.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre was asked to write a guidance note with the Australian Red Cross on gender and climate change, and felt the minimum standards offered a good starting point. The standards table was expanded to include gender-sensitive actions, including how practitioners might consider gender while making programmes more climate-smart for communities and Red Cross Red Crescent societies worldwide.

The resulting guidance note also outlines how climate change can impact on men and women differently. It can be used as a tool during gender training, as an information sheet for staff, volunteers and policy-makers, and as part of education activities. Feedback so far has been positive. The resource is accessible and easily understood; the simple format, just like the minimum standards themselves, provides an easy reference point.

In summary, while women are vulnerable to climate change, they are also incredibly resilient and have important roles to play in reducing risk in their communities and nations. Tools such as the minimum standards for local climate-smart DRR can be used to ascertain how women are vulnerable and what actions they can take to address rising risks. We can all support them in achieving this.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

 

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