Listen to women in tackling the climate crisis!

Women on their way to work in Jamshedpur in the Indian state of Jharkhand, the is strongly influenced by the steel and conglomerate Tata.
Political article
The climate crisis and the struggle for women's rights have more in common than first meets the eye. Climate change is in fact compounding discrimination – also in the global South.

Women take the climate menace more seriously than men. Women are keener to conserve resources and more willing to change their behaviour. Men, on the other hand, are more inclined towards risky technical solutions to the climate crisis.[1] Studies show that women have a better carbon footprint than men, they drive fewer and more economical cars, eat more vegetarian food and pay more attention to organic products when shopping.

At the same time, women and girls are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, particularly in developing countries. Yet local problem-solving approaches mainly influenced by women are often ignored.

These are some of the topics being addressed by the global women's network Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) and around which it is building public awareness using informative Educational Posters, among other means.

Alliance Sud interviewed Katharina Habersbrunner and Anne Barre of the WECF, who are responsible for the implementation of gender-sensitive climate and energy projects and for shaping climate policy in a gender-appropriate manner.


Alliance Sud: Why is a feminist approach to the climate emergency necessary?

WECF: Without wishing to resort to stereotypes, patriarchal action approaches do have a direct bearing on the climate crisis and the manner in which it is being handled. Climate change is not gender-neutral, either in the global North or in the South.

It is not just in developing countries that women have less political decision-making power, less access to resources, including funding, ownership of property, education and information. At the same time, new developments such as renewable energies usually reach women to a lesser degree or later than men. Women are hardly taken on board in the planning, implementation and evaluation of climate-friendly technologies or projects, although they are better aware of their families' needs and are therefore the more direct users of energy. Currently, just 0.01% of total climate funding goes towards clearly gender-sensitive climate solutions.

From the perspective of women, what are the challenges or opportunities bound up with the climate crisis and sustainable development?

Because women are deprived of access to information or to warnings about weather extremes, they are 14 times more likely to die than men as a result of climate disasters.[2] In many countries, women are not allowed on the streets alone, they are generally less mobile and receive less survival training than men. By Oxfam estimates, almost four times more men survived the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia because, unlike women, they knew how to swim.

But more than anything else, the gradual climate changes occurring in poor countries mean longer hours and ever more burdensome work for women and girls in cultivating fields or keep their households supplied with energy and water. They are the first to lose their sources of income as a result of climate change, and the ones who must leave school prematurely or be forcibly married.

Although in many countries women are responsible for (subsistence) farming and hence for feeding the families, they often have neither ownership nor decision-making rights over the land that they work. This applies also to water supplies. If the focus of adaptation measures is on purely technical solutions, the needs of those directly affected, namely women and girls, are far too often overlooked.

An even more telling example consists of poorly designed cyclone shelters in Bangladesh. Because gender-specific needs were not factored into the planning, women are even more exposed during cyclones to sexual harassment by men, for example when sanitary facilities are unlit and located at some distance from the common rooms.

Besides, women are often simply denied access to solutions: In Georgia, WECF and local partners have developed solar collectors for water heating, which are being produced locally. This reduces deforestation, and enables mostly women to save time and money. Regrettably, however, implementation is faltering, for unlike men on lower incomes, women hardly obtain loans, or if they do they are charged much higher interest rates than men.

Women are often assigned a specific role in addressing the climate crisis…

Because of their role as heads of households and caregivers, women often depend much more directly on developing practical, day-to-day solutions to climate change. Because they can mobilize communities, they are often viewed as change agents. The fact is that women all over the world are advocating for innovative, effective and affordable local strategies. Generally, however, these local low-tech approaches receive much less political and financial backing than high-tech ones and are therefore never implemented on the requisite scale.

A Gender Action Plan (GAP) was adopted at last year's World Climate Conference in Katowice. Was that a turning point for gender-equitable climate policies?

The rigorous implementation of gender equality, referred to as gender mainstreaming, gained recognition at a late stage in the more than 25-year process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And this despite the fact that gender-equitable measures are contributing significantly to the effectiveness of climate policy. The preamble to the Paris agreement on climate change now calls for human rights, gender justice and greater involvement of women in all activities to combat climate change to be made binding under international law.

The GAP distils these demands into five core areas: capacity building, knowledge exchange and communication, for example through gender training in UN institutions; gender parity in leadership positions at climate conferences and in countries; coherence, whereby decisions regarding gender and climate change are also incorporated in measures taken by the other UN bodies; gender-sensitive implementation, including the wherewithal needed, as well as gender-sensitive monitoring and reporting on climate measures implemented.

Because the contracting States are required to collect gender-specific data and undertake a gender analysis of their climate policies, governments are being urged to consider gender policy and climate policy together. The GAP thus constitutes the basis for a (more) gender-responsive climate policy. But even clearer progress is needed on implementation, as are more ambitious decisions at future climate conferences.

But there are also scholars who are critical of the “feminization of the climate crisis”. They maintain that the gender-based division of labour is being cemented, while women are still being largely excluded from key international climate policy negotiations. What do you think of these assertions?

If existing structures within a community or household are ignored, the predominant power structures and social inequalities are replicated and even reinforced in projects and policies. From that viewpoint, a gender-blind climate policy is effectively slowing down the quest for solutions to mitigate the climate emergency. In that sense we fully subscribe to the idea of the "feminization of the climate crisis". Climate change operates like a risk multiplier and reinforces the forms of discrimination currently affecting women because of their lower social, economic and political status. It is therefore important to underscore that in most societies women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change owing principally to the traditional distribution of roles. Hence the importance of the binding implementation of the GAP with its various layers. The more women involved at all levels of decision-making, the more successful climate policy will be.


Women Engage for a Common Future

WECF is an international network comprising more than 150 women’s and environmental organisations in 50 countries. WECF campaigns for the local implementation of sustainable climate solutions and the promotion of gender-equitable policy frameworks worldwide. As a founding member of the Women and Gender Constituency of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Conference on Climate Change) and an official partner of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the WECF implements closely interwoven climate and gender policies that empower women through local climate projects.


[1] World Bank, World Development Report 2012

[2] UNFPA, Women on the frontline