Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Gender and Climate Change - a Forgotten Issue?
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Until very recently, gender issues have not played a major role in climate protection discussions. This is surprising given the situation that equity in general, especially between South and North, is regularly on the agenda and is a key issue in the climate change negotiations.
Only in the past couple of years have discussions about gender during Conference of the Parties meetings to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) been raised. At the Ninth Conference of the Parties, held in December 2003 in Milan, Italy, a network of people interested in gender issues was established. The network organized two workshops on gender and climate change at the Tenth Conference of the Parties, held in December 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Activities and discussions on gender are already planned for the Eleventh Conference of the Parties to be held in November and December this year in Montreal, Canada.
Thus, at the international level of climate change negotiations, gender issues are on the rise. Moreover, many projects in developing countries are now addressing the different situation of women and men respective to their different vulnerabilities to climate change. In the industrialized countries of the North, after an absence of activities on gender and climate change, it would seem that this issue is about to be discovered.
There are a number of activities already underway. A research project at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Germany is dealing with gender issues and emissions trading. City networks are contributing to increase the share of women in decision making in climate change policies. The Climate Alliance of European Cities coordinated the project Climate for Change: Gender Equality and Climate Change Policy. The regional government of Lower Austria has considered gender mainstreaming within their climate change programme. All of these activities are based on the premise that climate change policies will be more effective if more women are involved and if gender issues are addressed.
Against this background I want to look more closely at how climate change is tangent to gender relations - and vice versa.
Questions to be raised when dealing with climate change from a gender perspective are:
Because there is an obvious historical lack of research, many of these questions cannot be answered at present. And not all these questions are similarly relevant in each region of the world. In the climate debate, questions linked to adaptation are more relevant in the South, while in the North questions connected to mitigation are more on top.
Gender and climate change in the South: adaptation
It is widely acknowledged that the negative effects of climate change are likely to hit the poorest people in the poorest countries the hardest. In other words, the poor are the most vulnerable to climate change.
Women form a disproportionate share of the poor. Seventy per cent of human beings worldwide living below the poverty line are women. In particular, in developing countries and communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources, women are likely to be disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate change often impacts the areas that are the basis of livelihoods for which women are responsible, for example, nutrition and water and energy supplies. Moreover, because of gender differences in property rights, access to information and in cultural, social and economic roles, the effects of climate change are likely to affect men and women differently.
The effects of climate change on gender inequality are not limited to immediate impacts and changing behaviours but also lead to subsequent changes in gender relations. Spending more time on traditional reproductive tasks reinforces traditional work roles and works against a change in which women might begin to play other roles.
For instance, because women are primary care-givers in times of disaster and environmental stress, the occurrence of magnified burdens of care-giving is likely to make them less mobile. Also, since climate change is expected to exacerbate existing shortfalls in water resources and fuelwood, the time taken to fetch water or wood (which in most countries is the responsibility of women) will certainly increase women's workloads, thus, limiting their opportunities to branch out into other, non-traditional activities.
To be successful, adaptation policies and measures within both developed and developing countries need to be gender sensitive. To understand the implications of adaptation measures for all people involved, it is necessary that all members of an adapting community are represented in climate change planning and governance processes.
During a drought in the small islands of the Federal States of Micronesia, the knowledge of island hydrology from women as a result of their land-based work enabled them to find potable water by digging a new well that reached the freshwater lens. Women, however, are often expected to contribute unpaid labour for soil and water conservation efforts yet are absent from the planning and governance processes. Equal involvement of men and women in adaptation planning is important not only to ensure that the measures developed are actually beneficial for all those who are supposed to implement them, but also to ensure that all relevant knowledge, (that is, knowledge from men and women) is integrated into policy and projects.
Gender and climate change in the North: mitigation
The participation of women in decision making, in planning and working out climate protection programmes is as important in the North as in the South. In the project Climate for Change, the involvement of women has been investigated, leading to the following results.
The relevant fields of action for climate protection such as energy policy, urban mobility and urban planning, are definitely male-dominated because of their technical focus. Among others, two initial questions arise. Firstly, who might profit if climate protection programmes lead to job creation? And secondly, what is the effect on the planning of measures and policies if they are almost exclusively planned from the viewpoint of one gender, whose background of experience usually excludes the work involved in caring and providing for others? Such questions should encourage us all to reflect on and discuss these important, everyday issues.
Up to now, there have been only few studies that have specifically addressed gender aspects in climate protection in industrialized countries. But there is a certain amount of data, especially from Germany, which points to differences between the sexes, and leads to the assumption that the priorities of women in climate protection may be different from those of men. The data lead to the following conclusions.
In general, all these gender-specific differences are either due to physiological differences or, to a much greater extent and scope, to differences in social roles assigned to women and men and gender-specific identities in society. Gender roles and identities are linked to gender hierarchies in terms of opportunity and participation in power structures in society. When considering the issue of gender relations, one must, therefore, also always bear in mind the power relations associated with them.
Looking at climate change mitigation from a gender perspective we, last but by no means least, have to answer these questions. Who, primarily, is causing the problems of carbon dioxide emissions? Who gets the benefits? Why is the polluter-pays principle so little taken into consideration in climate change policies? There might well be a strong connection between gender relations, power relations and these questions that has not yet started to be discussed.
As mentioned above, gender issues have not been recognized in the UNFCCC negotiations until now, although there was a very weak decision at the Seventh Conference of the Parties in December 2001 in Marrakesh, Morocco regarding the nomination of women in the bodies of the UNFCCC.
To improve this situation, some fundamental requirements have to be addressed immediately so as to provide a just and equitable approach to this issue.
Research and data. We do not know enough about gender aspects of climate change, particularly in the North. For example, with regard to climate protection measures, there is no gender analysis from a Northern perspective, only, in some aspects, from a Southern perspective. All climate protection measures and programmes and all instruments for mitigating climate change or adapting to climate change must be subject to a gender-focused analysis. All climate change-related data, scenarios, and so on, need to be disaggregated by gender. Gender-disaggregated data are particularly lacking for the developed world.
Relevant research needs to be developed and financed. This requires gender experts and climate researchers to engage in the issues, and it requires funders to support such research projects. Based on existing knowledge in the area of climate change as well as in other areas, specific suggestions for research projects can easily be developed and advocated.
Gender mainstreaming. Gender must be universally integrated into climate protection negotiations and policy making at national and international levels. The different needs, opportunities and goals of women and men need to be taken into account. The beginning post-2012 process offers an important opportunity.
Participation. Women must be involved in climate protection negotiations at all levels and in all decisions on climate protection. Representation by numbers is not enough. We need women represented and we need gender experts involved.
Information/publications. There is a general information deficit on climate protection and related policies. New information materials and strategies need to be developed. They need to include gender aspects, and they need to be targeted to group specific, including being tailored for women's information channels.
Monitoring. Gender mainstreaming of climate change-related research, policy making and implementation needs to be monitored at the national and international levels. This can be summarized within three main goals.
The above-mentioned requirements are based on the paper Gender and Climate Change in the North: Issues, Entry Points and Strategies for the Post-2012 Process and Beyond which was written by Minu Hemmati for genanet - focal point gender justice and sustainability.
If any climate protection policy ignores the afore-mentioned as well as many other, proven or as yet only suspected, gender aspects, it cannot be accepted as sustainable, since it would have a counter-productive effect on gender equality. Without taking gender aspects into consideration, the task of preventing climate change will be difficult to achieve.
I am absolutely certain that gender-just participation and recognition of gender relations will lead to a more comprehensive view of climate change. The full diversity of social groups and their living situations are more likely to be taken into account. Children, the elderly and migrants, for example, will be taken into rightful account. This will, in turn, lead to improvement of the measures, and to a higher acceptance of gender issues amongst the global populace.
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Tiempo Climate Newswatch