Climate change and gender

Climate change and gender is concerned with gender differences in the context of climate change and the complex and intersecting power relations arising from it.[1] By altering the ecosystems of the planet, climate change, and more specifically global warming, directly impacts the human race. These effects vary for different segments of the population, specifically for people of different genders.[1] In many cases, women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change because of their lower social status in most countries. Many impoverished women, especially those in the developing world, are farmers and depend on the natural environment for subsistence and income. By further limiting their already constrained access to physical, social, political, and fiscal resources, climate change often burdens women more than men.[1]

Locally and globally, both governments and non-governmental organizations respond to climate change. Some of these efforts focus on mitigating the effects of climate change while others aid societies in adapting their lifestyles to changes in their environment. Most policy responses in the late 20th and early 21st century either did not focus on the social effects of climate change or did not consider gender in these efforts.[2]

Analysis of gender in climate change, however, not only means applying a binary male/female system of analysis on sets of quantitative data but also scrutinizing discursive constructions that shapes power relations connected to climate change.[3]


Climate change is a lasting variation in the global climate in response to natural and/or human factors.[4] Climate change, and more specifically global warming, can cause glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, pushing saltwater into freshwater systems.[5] Significant changes like the salinization of water push species to new locations, directly impacting global ecosystems.[5][6] Climatic changes affect weather patterns, increasing the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, and extreme weather events.[7] These types of conditions also result in natural disasters.[8] While climate change is not solely destructive, the negative impacts of global warming on health and agriculture are greater than the benefits for the majority of the world and increase as global temperatures rise.[9] A two-degree rise in temperature threatens 25 percent of all plant and animal species on the planet with extinction.[6] These climatic changes cause the most harm for the most vulnerable populations or those who lack the ability to cope with and adapt to climate change because of a lack of access to essential resources.[10][11] Marginalized groups like women, children, the elderly, and the impoverished have less access to and control over resources and therefore are more negatively impacted by climate change.[11]

Gender differentiated vulnerability to climate change impacts

Gender is the collective social differences between males and females, as determined by culture.[12] Gender is one of many components of vulnerability to climatic change.[13] Changes in the climate affect genders differently, magnifying existing gender inequality.[4][11] Both women and men are affected by and vulnerable to climate change and global warming, but women often bear more of the burden.[14] This higher vulnerability is mostly not due to biological or physical differences, but is formed by the social, institutional and legal context. Subsequently, Vulnerability is less an intrinsic feature of women and girls but rather a product of their marginalization.[15]

Accordingly, a study by the London School of Economics found that, in natural disasters in 141 countries, gender differences in deaths correlated to women’s economic and social rights in those countries.[13] Due to their social standing, women in developing countries are not generally taught survival skills like swimming or climbing, meaning they are more likely to die in a natural disaster.[4][16] When women have fewer rights and less power in society, more of them die due to climate change, but when there are equal rights for all groups, death rates are more equally matched.[13]


The poor and impoverished are dependent on the environment and its natural resources for subsistence and income; poverty research reveals that many of the poor are women because, as a group, they have less social power.[6] Many women in developing countries are farmers, but women as a group have trouble obtaining education, income, land, livestock, and technology, meaning climate change may negatively impact female farmers more than male farmers by further limiting their resources.[17] In 2009, women produced between 60 and 80 percent of all food in the developing world, yet they owned ten percent of all agricultural land and approximately two percent of land rights.[6]

As the planet warms and access to water changes, the crop yields tend to decrease.[18] These effects are not uniform, and they have the largest impact on areas of the world where the economy depends on agriculture and the climate is sensitive to change.[18] In developing countries, women are often in charge of obtaining water, firewood, and other resources for their families, but these resources are directly impacted by climate change, meaning women must travel further and work longer to access them during crisis.[4][6] Climate change increases burdens placed on women by society and further limits their access to education and employment.[14]

Sexual abuse and disease transmission

Natural disasters disrupt daily routines and complicate gender and family roles, which can cause victims of natural disasters to feel powerless and frustrated.[19] These feelings often result in aggression against less powerful groups.[19] Women and children in developed and developing countries are at higher risk of sexual abuse during and after natural disasters than before.[20] Condom use during disasters is also lower than at other times, because of decreased access to condoms.[20] Combined with the accelerated spread of diseases and infections in developing countries, the breakdown of the social order and the malnourishment that sometimes accompanies climate change have led to higher rates of dengue fever, malaria, HIV, and STI transmission, especially for women.[6][20] Elderly women are also particularly at risk during natural disasters and times of crisis because they are more susceptible to climatically-induced health risks like disease and because they are often isolated from social support to which men and some younger women have access.[6]

Increased inequalities through climate change

Not only the impacts of The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report concludes that there is ‘robust evidence’ for an increase of gender inequalities as a result of weather events as well as for the perpetuation of differential vulnerabilities.[1] The increase of inequalities due to climate change can have several reasons. For example, girls often face more serious risks than boys due to unequal distribution of scarce resources within the household. This effect is amplified by climate change induced resource scarcity.[21] Furthermore, Climate change often results in an increase of out-migration of men. This leaves women with an increased work-load at home, resulting in a feminization of responsibilities.[1] Climate change is predicted to increase frequency and magnitude of natural hazards such as extreme heat.[15] During and after these hazards especially women are burdened with increased care work for children, the sick and old, adding furthermore to already significant amount of household duties.[1]

Climate change policy

Some scholars believe that climate change policy that does not address gender is not effective.[4] Much of the climate change policy created before the 21st century focused on economic rather than social effects of climatic change and global warming.[4][11] Climate change research and policy began to look at gender in the 21st century.[4] The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Millennium Development Goals, and the Beijing Platform for Action are all gender-aware initiatives that may affect climate change policy.[4] While women in rural areas depend on the environment heavily, they are not usually represented in climate change decision-making processes, whether those processes are adaptative or mitigative.[13]

Some of the international responses to climate change that do not address gender or employ gender-sensitive approaches include Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Action Plan, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).[4][6] As of 2009, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the only international climate change response to have incorporated gender dimensions.[6]

Mitigation and adaptation efforts

Mitigative policy attempts to moderate the intensity of global warming’s effects through measures like reducing greenhouse gases and enhancing sinks.[22] According to research, men and women use their knowledge of their environments to mitigate disasters, transferring this knowledge through informal education.[20] Some of this knowledge includes food preservation processes, methods of construction, and understanding of natural resources in the area.[20] Examples of mitigative efforts include carbon emissions trading.[4] Mitigative efforts largely ignore gender.[4]

Adaptive policy involves spontaneous or planned efforts to tolerate the negative effects of climate change and take advantage of the beneficial effects.[23] Men and women respond differently to climate change[24] and subsequently also to adaptation measures, which can affect men and women unequally, when the gender perspective is ignored in the policy.[2] For example, the IPCC report AR5 points out that adaptation measures in agriculture can in some cases lead to increased gender inequalities.[25]

Women can be important players in climate change policy because they have gendered knowledge about things like managing water resources.[13][26] CARE’s research shows that, when women are in control of the family income, it is more likely to be spent on human development.[12] Women are also generally more risk averse than men and make safer decisions.[12] Yet, in 2008, the EU Commission and Council on adaptation policy did not address gender at all.[4][6] Furthermore, gender roles and subsequent institutional and social pressures can pose constraints to adaptive capacities.[27] One research by Jabeen[28] points out the impact of spatial practices that manifest power relations and marginalise women. This decreases the ability of women to make decisions and subsequently their adaptive capacity. Some feminist scholars therefore maintain that fundamental patriarchal structures are mainly responsible for the inability to adapt to and mitigate climate change.[29]

Policy recommendations

Some scholars recommend incorporating gender dimensions into research and using human-rights approaches like the Millennium Development Goals and CEDAW as frameworks for climate change responses.[4][13][30] Several organizations believe that linking mitigation and adaptation approaches, equally funding both types of efforts, and integrating gender into mitigative and adaptive policies will better address the consequences of climate change.[4][13] The UNDP mandates gender mainstreaming in all adaptation measures, meaning adaptive responses to climate change must consider gender and gender equality from their inception and cannot incorporate a gender component late in their development or only in certain areas.[14] Others believe that imposing mainstreaming agendas on communities can make gender-sensitive policy less effective and may even be counter-productive, emphasizing gender differences and isolating gender issues from other areas affected by climate change.[20] Most scholars and organizations working to address climate change agree that policy-makers must work with both women and men and take them into consideration at all levels.[12]

In 2009, a forest-protection mechanism called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) was agreed upon by attendees of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.[6] Many development organizations praise the REDD mechanism, but others criticize its function as a market-based instrument and its impact on local communities.[6]

Gender inequalities do not only emerge in context of climate change as a physical reality, but also within discourses of and negotiations over climate change.[3][29][31] This is reflected in the fact that men are dominant in all levels of climate change debate[29] – from the science to policy, from the local to the global level.[3] This has an effect on climate change policies. Roehr[2] notes that, while the United Nations officially committed to gender mainstreaming, in practice gender equality is not reached in the context of climate change. Little data and research results in insufficient gender awareness in enacted gender policies.[2]

Gender Differentiated Contribution to and perception of climate change

Contribution to climate change is correlated to gender.[29] A study on car use in Sweden for example found that men are more likely to use the car more, for longer distances and alone compared to women, thereby exhausting more CO2 than women.[32] A study of young people in Finland shows that concern over climate change has a higher impact on climate friendly consumption in women compared to men.[33] This may be incidental to differences in perception of climate change.[34] Women tend to agree with the scientific opinion that anthropogenic pollution is mainly responsible for climate change (m: 56%, f: 64%) and are more concerned about its effects: 29% of men and 35% of women in the US "worry about global warming a great deal".[34] Women furthermore possess unique skills and knowledge, which are important in building equal and sustainable responses to climate change.[35] The UNFPA report State of world population 2009 - Facing a changing world: women, population and climate identifies women as important actors in mobilizing against climate change.[36] The report quotes Wangari Maathai that “Women hold the key to Climate’s Future”; “when we talk about reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, we need to focus on women […]”[36]

Gender in Climate Science

According to a survey conducted IPCC WGI Co-Chairs and Technical Support Unit (TSU) on April 25, 2014, many of the polled authors stated that they saw the need for a better gender balance.[37] This is reflected in the gender balance of contributors to the fifth IPCC assessment report. Only 27% of contributors to Working Group II, concerned with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability[38] and 18,5% of contributors of Working Group I, concerned with the physical science basis, are female.[39] This also applies to other organisation, as for example only 7% of leadership positions in the offices of National Weather Services are women.[40] On a similar note, a study conducted by the University of Oxford in cooperation with the Nielsen Company found that 18 of the 22 ‘most influential spokespeople on climate change’ are male.[41] Female spokespeople were neither politicians nor scientists and their direct connection to climate change is therefore doubtful.[3] A list of prominent women scientists is available at Women in climate change. Some feminist scholars hold that the debate on climate change is not only dominated by men but also primarily shaped in ‘masculine’ principles, which limits discussions about climate change to a perspective that focuses on technical solutions.[31] This perception of climate change hides subjectivity and power relations that actually condition climate change policy and science, leading to a phenomenon that Tuana[31] terms ‘epistemic injustice’. Similarly, MacGregor[3] criticizes the scientific discourse from a less quantitative perspective but focusses on discursive aspects. She attests that by framing climate change as an issue of ‘hard’ natural scientific conduct and natural security, it is kept within the traditional domains of hegemonic masculinity.[3][29] Seager[42] maintains that the 2 °C aim, which is a reoccurring topic in the climate change debate, is not, as often assumed, a safe goal for all people on the planet. Rather it will ensure the stability of a patriarchal capitalism and subsequently the continuity of power for those who are powerful today.[42]

Case studies


Bangladesh is prone to flooding and waterlogging because of its location as a river delta.[12][43][44] In 2012, it was labeled a Least Developed Country by the United Nations, with high rates of poverty and weak government, meaning it is especially vulnerable to natural disasters.[43][44] It is densely populated and about 63 percent of its population was working in the agriculture, forestry, or fishing sectors in 2010.[43] Slightly less than half of Bangladesh’s population is women and, in 2001, 80 percent of women lived in rural areas.[44] Bangladeshi women are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they have limited mobility and power in society.[12] Research shows that, after the cyclone and flooding of 1991, Bangladeshi women aged 20–44 had a much higher death rate than men of the same age: 71 per 1000, compared to 15 per 1000 for men.[44] Even if a cyclone warning is issued, many women die because they must wait at home for their relatives to return before they can seek shelter.[44]

As climate change progresses, access to and salinization of water sources are becoming problems in Bangladesh.[44] When there is a lack of drinking water, women are responsible for procuring it regardless of the distance they must travel or the terrain they must cover.[44] During natural disasters, male unemployment rises.[44] When men become unemployed, women's responsibilities increase because they must secure and manage income and resources on top of feeding the family and caring for children and the elderly.[44] As the number of men at home without income or occupation rises, more women report mental and physical abuse by their male relatives.[44] To cope with climatic change, women store matches, food for the family, fodder for the livestock, medicine, and fuel sources in safe places in case of disaster.[44] They also teach their children skills such as swimming to prepare them for crisis.[44] The global relief agency CARE believes that climate-resilient jobs such as duck rearing can help increase Bangladeshi women’s resilience to climate change.[12]

Since the disasters of 1991, Bangladeshi women are more involved in disaster response decision-making, through local committees and community organizations established by the government and NGOs.[12][44] As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), Bangladesh published a Poverty Reduction Strategy paper in 2005 that incorporated gender mainstreaming into its climate change adaptation plan, but as of 2008 those goals and policies were not fully implemented.[44]

South Africa

In 2010, South Africa was the region with the largest economy in Africa, yet more than half of the population lived in poverty and many were unemployed.[45] Impoverished populations of South Africa depend heavily on agriculture and natural resources to live.[45] Coal and metal ore mining were also significant contributing sectors of the economy, but are decreasing in the 21st century due to climate change and globalization.[45] In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that Africa would warm due to climate change 1.5 times more than the rest of the world and that South Africa, specifically, would be 3 - 4 °C warmer by 2100.[45] Water, agriculture, mining, and forestry would all be affected by these changes in temperature and weather.[45] The Human Sciences Research Council found in 2004 that 57% of South Africa's poor were at risk for negative climate change effects because they depended on rain-fed agriculture and climate change in Africa was expected to cause longer and more intense periods of drought over time.[45] Many of the rural poor in South Africa are women who have only limited access to property, income, credit, resources, and social power.[45]

In South Africa, men traditionally look after the livestock while women look over the garden, but in extended periods of drought, many households lose their livestock.[45] In response to this loss and to increasing unemployment, men are turning to alcohol to deal with the psychological stress.[45] Some are also increasing their number of sexual partners, increasing their risk of contracting or spreading HIV.[45] In response to these changes, more women are entering the workforce, either formally or informally. Some are now working in traditionally male occupations like mining and construction. Others are making and selling goods locally.[45] Social grants from the South African government further support households affected by the changing climate.[45] These grants include pensions, disability payments, and child support.[45] In some cases, when men are responsible for the distribution of social grants in the household instead of women, they use the money to purchase alcohol.[45] In response, the government tends to give grant money to women, which can cause domestic disputes within households.[45]

Understanding of climate change in South Africa is based mainly on experience and local knowledge, which is communicated orally.[45] Women tend to hold more of this knowledge than men do because of their experience with farming and gardening.[45] In response to drought, some women plant crops near wetlands or other water sources.[45] They also preserve food for periods of drought or crop failure.[45] Despite their knowledge of climate change, many responses in South Africa (like the South African Country Study on Climate Change Vulnerability & Adaptation Assessment) do not address gender.[45] While women in South Africa are represented in the government on a provincial level, there are not many women in government at a municipal level.[45]


The Climate & Development Knowledge Network commissioned a film to be made on the impact of climate change women in India. Directed by Krishnendu Bose, the film looks at the way in which women, who make up two thirds of the farming workforce, are poorly represented in agricultural policy. It depicts the challenges faced by rural women working in agriculture where drought and flooding is harming their livelihoods and ability to farm vegetables and fish. It shows isolated stories of success where resourceful techniques are integrated into farming despite challenges from climate change and poverty, such as Rita Kamila, who feeds her chickens over her flooded fields in order to grow the number of fish that now live in her fields. She is able to earn money from the growing fish stock. The film calls upon policy makers to support local initiatives like Rita's to bolster the resilience to climate change and to enhance the work that the women are already doing to protect communities against its risks. Currently only land owning farmers are entitled to government schemes, but only 10% of land owning farmers are women, thus it is critical to scale up women's access to government schemes.[46]

See also


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  46. Missing: The forgotten women in India’s climate plans


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