Is climate change a gendered problem?

Gender and the Climate Change Agenda

The Women’s Environmental Network certainly argue that it is. In their recently launched report ‘Gender and the Climate Change Agenda’ (PDF), WEN state that

because of prescribed gender roles, and the fact that, the world over, women are more likely to live in poverty than men, women are disproportionately affected by climate change

WEN argue that set gender roles, including responsibility for food production and preparation, water collection and health provision, have already contributed to women being disproportionately affected by climate change. With fewer financial resources, less access to UN funding mechanisms, and a greater vulnerability to immediate environmental conditions, women inevitably represent a huge percentage of those who have already been affected by adverse weather conditions globally:

20 million of the 26 million people currently estimated to be displaced by climate change are female

However, since women are only very poorly represented amongst those currently making decisions on climate change, WEN feel that future decisions on this issue run the risk of continuing to sideline the particular vulnerability of women and perpetuate existing inequalities.

The broader impact of climate change

Looking to the future, this means that women will also be amongst the net losers in the predicted global 2° temperature increase, a fact that adds to the ongoing trend towards re-framing the climate debate as a social justice issue (Climate Justice Action, Oxfam’s current climate change campaign).

As stated in our climate change driver, the effects of climate change are unlikely to remain the sole concern of environmental groups and networks, with the impact likely to be felt in surprising ways, such as through an increased pressure on public health services and decreased access to affordable transport. These secondary effects of climate change are also likely to disproportionately affect women, since their often low socio-economic status could prevent them from ‘buying’ their way out of climate-induced hardships.

Sadly, climate change mitigation policies may also conspire to worsen social inequalities, creating a lose-lose situation for many. For instance, the recent ESRC publication on equitable responses to climate change in the UK points out that climate change mitigation policies like raised energy prices may well add to the problems of those in the UK already suffering from the effects of fuel poverty.

Does this report give us anything new?

Aside from specific (and important) points about water collection and farming in developing countries, a lot of the value of a report like this is that it adds to a growing consensus that climate change is as much a social issue as an environmental one. Both WEN and ESRC take a cautionary stance over the development of mitigation policies that could adversely affect already impoverished communities, and offer a timely warning against blindly pursuing environmental targets to the cost of those who barely contributed to the problem in the first place.

Voluntary and community organisations need to be encouraged to re-evaluate the climate change agenda by looking beyond carbon emissions and considering how the people or cause they exist to support may be affected by climate-related change, as well as the likely impact it will have on their operations and what they can do in response. Something this report does well is remind us that not all responses are equal.

This issue has also been specifically addressed by the NCVO The Big Response Project last year, through work with four UK charities, and is also covered in our climate change driver.

Further reading

More on energy and climate change has been written recently by Kathryn here.  

WEN have made the report freely downloadable on their website, and It’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the links between social justice and environmentalism, as is the ESRC seminar publication on developing an equitable response to the impact of climate change in the UK, and (of course), our own dedicated driver.

Last updated at 15:43 Thu 01/Apr/10.
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