Engendering our response to climate change: Will it ever happen?

Photo by Oxfam America

Now perhaps it’s because I’m writing a thesis on the subject, but gender has been on my mind a lot lately. Yes, I’m one of those [insert any variation of ‘feminist’ here]. Guilty as charged. But forgive me for considering the fact that women and girls bear the brunt of every form of disaster out there, be it climate, financial or food-related, to be in need of major attention.

Gender advocates have argued relentlessly for the need to shift policy and practice out of the ‘malestream’ to integrate fully a gender perspective. A recent spate of reports serve as timely reminders that whether through gradual changes in weather patterns or more rapid onset emergencies climate change is definitely not gender neutral. Be it water shortages, rising food prices, floods or cyclones women bear the brunt disproportionately and often overwhelmingly. Last week Plan International launched ‘Weathering the storm: Adolescent girls and climate change’ calling for better integration of the needs of adolescent girls in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.

In June, IDS and BRIDGE published ‘Gender-Responsive Strategies on Climate Change: Recent Progress and Ways forward for donors’. Again, another effective report with numerous suggestions. Among them, addressing ‘mainstreaming fatigue’ and promoting gender responsiveness in international climate negotiations, adaptation funding and low carbon development.

They’re joined by The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation who’ve identified key principles for incorporating a gender dimension into the Green Climate Fund. They advocate gender-responsive governance, gender equitable fund allocation and gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation as the means to operationalise recognition at COP 16 that gender equality and the active participation of women are important for effective action on all aspects of climate change. Indeed these thoughts resonate with Oxfam’s proposals for Cancún.

That there are so many reports and no shortage of recommendations is encouraging. Each recommendation is realisable. Therefore, progress is attainable. Yet ensuring women have either equitable access to adaptation funding or an equal voice in climate change negotiations seems far off. At Bali in 2007 the share of women in country delegations was 28%. Of the heads of delegations of the parties women comprised only 12%. Last time I checked, women comprise 50% of the world population.

What can be done to galvanise action, and I mean tangible action? To translate recommendation into practice?

Photo by Rebecca Blackwell for Oxfam America

Last year Tearfund joined the call for a fair Global Climate Fund, which, amongst many other things, would include women’s voices in national processes to ensure climate finance is spent locally and monitored. With COP 17 and Rio +20 on the horizon we continue to call for fair and inclusive decision-making processes. Ultimately, neglecting to incorporate a gender-sensitive approach to international climate change negotiations means that the decisions and actions taken cannot reflect the needs, capabilities, priorities and concerns of all and cannot therefore be effective or equitable.

In the ‘Environment and Disasters’ team we are looking to bring a stronger gender dimension to our advocacy work and so we’re interested to hear the experiences and perspectives of others. With such an agenda for change, where should our energies be directed? As we grapple with these issues we welcome your views. Where should we start?

In the words of ‘feminist’ lobbyists at Bali, there can be ‘No climate justice without gender justice’. Meeting the needs of women and ensuring their direct participation, dare I say leadership, at all levels of decision-making and practice must be central to our response. The case has been made. And the time to act is now. The clock continues to tick.


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