By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
Structural and cultural discrimination of women make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, however, they also lack systematic representation as decision makers. Gender equality is essential for transformational climate action, thus the involvement of women in it is key.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts in a number of ways. For example, a study from 2007 showed that the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of women that is built into everyday socio-economic patterns led to higher mortality during and after disasters compared to men. Surviving extreme weather events can leave women with a lack of resources to rebuild their lives, this can range from a lack of legal assets to not having rights to property. The less extreme day-to-day struggles of having to collect water or food also come with their own set of gendered challenges as women often get threatened and abused.
Framing climate change as a human rights imperative, a global security threat, and a pervasive economic strain, a Georgetown University study from 2015 looked specifically at the gendered dimensions of climate impacts and how women systematically suffer more severe health, economic, social, and physical consequences. The report also recognised women as critical agents of change who provide both creative and localised solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation, but who are, at the same time, systematically excluded from decision-making processes.
The UNFCCC is trying to counteract this systematic exclusion through a number of measures like, for example, the Gender Action Plan (GAP). Established at COP23, the GAP recognises that “there is a need for women to be represented in all aspects of the Convention process and a need for gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.” The Paris Agreement also mentions the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment several times calling, for example, for gender-responsive adaptation and capacity building. Increasing women’s participation at the political level results in greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs, increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and delivering more sustainable peace.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind how intersectionality adds fuel to the fire of gender inequality. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the way in which institutions of oppression (sexism, racism, ableism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from each other creating very unique experiences for different people. For example, a wealthy white woman and a wealthy black woman can both experience sexism, but the black woman will in all likelihood experience racism on top of that, or even gendered racism; similarly, a disabled woman encounters completely different challenges than a non-disabled woman. But also, the examples outlined further above do not apply to all women, illustrating why the representation of women in decision-making processes needs to reflect their diverse experiences making sure we are creating solutions for all, not just the few.