A Review Of ‘Gender And Climate Change: Mapping The Linkages’
AWID reviews the latest draft report from BRIDGE, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) – a scoping study on the links between climate change and gender.
By Rochelle Jones
Climate change is a contemporary global issue which has the potential to impact everyone. Aside from the environmental impacts, it is commonly now understood that the impacts of climate change exacerbate existing social inequalities – and this is why it is an important issue for women. The world’s poorest feel the impacts of climate change the most, and yet they are mostly absent from decision-making processes. Regardless, communities are already developing important new strategies to adapt to these impacts – strategies that could be learned from and replicated.
A significant body of information and knowledge about climate change, its causes and impacts, is being produced worldwide. What remains to be seen, however, is a body of work focusing on gender and climate change. BRIDGE’s draft report ‘Gender and Climate Change: Mapping the Linkages’*, is a timely and important study that scopes current thinking on gender and climate change, as well as making recommendations for further research. The study “outlines key linkages between climate change and gender inequality – focusing particularly on adaptation and mitigation policies and practices” [p1], and claims that because “women constitute the largest percentage of the world’s poorest people, they are most affected by these changes…”.
From the beginning, BRIDGE asserts that “a gender-sensitive response requires more than a set of disaggregated data showing that climate change has differential impacts on women and men. It requires an understanding of existing inequalities between women and men, and of the ways in which climate change can exacerbate these inequalities. Conversely, it also requires an understanding of the ways in which these inequalities can intensify the impacts of climate change for all individuals and communities.” [p2]
Part 1: Differential impacts of climate change on men and women
The first section of the report maps the gendered impacts of climate change in health; agriculture; water; wage labour; natural disasters; conflict; and migration. Climate change impacts men and women differently because of differential access to social and physical resources. Inequalities as a result of women’s social positioning in the family and community are usually further deepened by the impacts of climate change. In addition, there is the possibility that the actual impacts of climate change are more intense due to the existing gender inequalities.
What are these ‘impacts’ of climate change? Some of the issues discussed in the report include: rising water levels and an increase in water borne diseases; water stress caused by weather-related hazards such as erratic monsoon patterns, flooding and extended periods of drought; decreased food security and higher rates of malnutrition due to food shortages; the collapse of regular routines and livelihoods that can lead to social stress and violence; increasing natural disasters, which we already know have a disproportionate impact on women; displacement and migration; and heightened competition over diminishing and unequally distributed resources.
Part 2: A gendered perspective of adaptation strategies
The second part of the report looks at climate change adaptation, drawing particularly on a recent study from ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which focuses on poor, rural women’s experiences of and responses to climate change.
Adaptation in the context of climate change is described in the report as “changes in ‘processes or structures to moderate or offset potential dangers or to take advantage of opportunities associated with changes in climate’” [p14]. An individual’s capacity to adapt to opportunities and challenges as a result of climate change is dependent on many variables such as ascribed social roles, economic stability and access to resources and support. According to BRIDGE, “at the household level, the ability to adapt to changes in the climate depends on control over land, money, credit and tools; low dependency ratios; good health and personal mobility; household entitlements and food security; secure housing in safe locations; and freedom from violence. As such, women are often less able to adapt to climate change than men since they represent the majority of low-income earners, they generally have less education than men and are thus less likely to be reached by extension agents and they are often denied rights to property and land, which makes it difficult for them to access credit and agricultural extension services.” [p11]
In saying this, however, a study by ActionAid and the IDS proves that women in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are already engaging adaptive strategies to offset climate change. These strategies not only highlight the extent and importance of local knowledge, they are extremely valuable to capture and use in other contexts (where relevant). The women who took part in the study employed a variety of interventions to adapt to their changing environment, such as “changing cultivation to flood and drought resistant crops, or to crops that can be harvested before the flood season, or varieties of rice that will grow high enough to remain above the water when the floods come” [p11].
Part 3: Including women in mitigation strategies
This final section discusses climate change mitigation and particularly the need to “include women in developing and implementing mitigation strategies, both to ensure their full participation in these processes and to ensure that such strategies are effective in addressing the ‘bigger picture’ of climate change and its human impacts.” Mitigation is “about preventing or limiting the occurrence of climate change. As such, mitigation focuses on tackling the causes of climate change: the increase of greenhouse gases” [p14].
Incorporating gender into mitigation strategies is more complex than engendering adaptation strategies, because negotiations and decision-making on mitigation often occur at the highest institutional levels where women have been traditionally excluded. This section discusses gendered perceptions of risk, as well as the enabling and constraining factors in building women’s leadership capacity and empowering women to participate in decision-making.
Critical to engendering mitigation strategies for climate change, is also an understanding of how “gender has an effect on people’s consumption and lifestyles and the impact this has on climate change” [p20]. The report introduces a recent interesting Swedish study, for example, which “examined the extent to which women generally live in a more sustainable way and leave a smaller ecological footprint than most men”.
The paper concludes with a set of recommendations for further research, such as: identifying and overcoming barriers to participation in decision-making; identifying the gendered impacts, coping strategies and adaptation priorities of women and men; identifying the impacts of climate change on gender roles and relations at the household level; and identifying how gender affects people’s consumption and lifestyles.
True to BRIDGE’s style, this paper is an excellent resource for those who either know nothing about the topic, or are well versed on the issues. It asks the right questions and provokes answers to those questions, as well as drawing out and highlighting existing gaps in research. One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the way it illustrates how gender roles at the level of the family can contribute to the further marginalisation of women at the community and institutional level. This is particularly resonant in the context of climate change, in which strategies like risk management involve complex and high-level negotiations and decision-making. For example, “women and girls are generally expected to care for the sick, particularly in times of disaster and environmental stress... This limits the time they have available for income generation which, when coupled with the rising medical costs associated with family illness, heightens levels of poverty. It also means they are less able to contribute to community-level decision-making processes on climate change or disaster risk reduction.” [p3].
The report certainly highlights that knowledge about gender and climate change is limited, however, it provides an excellent review of the available literature and important departure points for future research.
*‘Gender and Climate Change: Mapping the Linkages’ can be downloaded at: http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/bridge/reports_general.htm or http://www.siyanda.org/static/bridge_climate_change_report.htm?em=0806&tag=QG