Climate and gender – 19 Nov 2022

The recently concluded COP27 observed the COP27 Gender Thematic Day on November 14 to demand justice for women and girls affected by climate-led disasters. A number of important developments took place to incorporate gender sensitivities in climate-change negotiations.

According to the UNFCCC document ‘Gender in Climate Finance Framework and NDCs’, 97 countries have updated their NDCs (nationally determined contributions) and included gender-equality considerations as compared to 49 in the first generation of NDCs; twenty-one countries have referred to gender in climate finance strategies compared to one country in 2015.

Without ensuring central roles for women in climate negotiations and developing gender-led climate policies, the achievement of Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, targets of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and implementation of the Paris agreement will be compromised. Climate justice cannot be met without promising generational equality.

Climate change disproportionately affects women and girls in different sectors across the world. Women and girls are negatively impacted by climate change in multiple ways. Structural inequalities that already exist in societies get further deepened by climate-led disasters. Extreme weather conditions like heatwaves impact women’s health more than men’s.

Women in developing countries, especially from rural communities, are associated with the agriculture sector. According to Save the Children, women, and girls make up more than 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force and are responsible for 60-80 per cent of food production. Extreme weather conditions deteriorate the health of women working in fields and reduce their ability to work, decreasing their crop yields.

Challenges like food insecurity posed by climate change lead to lack of access to nutritional food for pregnant women, leading to issues like miscarriages, anaemia, and premature births. Such medical conditions also lead to mental depression and psychological problems in women. The UN’s reproductive health agency estimated in August 2022 that “there are almost 650,000 pregnant women in Pakistan’s flood-affected areas, with up to 73,000 expected to give birth in the next month”. Such women already displaced by the devastating floods are under threats of malnutrition and health emergencies.

Climate crises also snatch economic opportunities from women and girls and increase poverty risks. Damage to the agriculture sector due to floods and heatwaves reduce the financial means of women and girls associated with the sector. Climate disasters also create insecurity for women and girls. According to the UN Environment Programme, 80 per cent of the people displaced by climate change are women. Displaced women and girls are more prone to incidents of gender-based violence, abduction, kidnapping, and trafficking. The physical threats to the lives of women under natural catastrophes are more as compared to those faced by men because traditional barriers prohibit women from leaving places that are prone to climate disasters alone.

Due to the financial crises and damage to the infrastructure of education institutions caused by climate change, women and girls lose their opportunities to educate themselves and upgrade their lifestyles. The dropout rate of girls from schools increases after climate change-induced disasters because the poor cannot afford to educate their girls if they’re in the middle of an economic crisis.

Nations gathered for climate change negotiations (C0P27) in Sharm el-Sheikh must focus on gender-led climate justice. Women have a central and important role in demanding climate justice. The government should introduce projects to teach women several adaptive measures that can help them cope with extreme weather conditions and make necessary adjustments in the agriculture sector to deal with the changing weather patterns. Similarly, women living in climate-prone disaster areas must be taught about safety measures. Information about immediate responses, relevant helplines and shelter homes should be given to women and girls.

In the Green Climate Fund, projects related to adaptive measures targeting women must be given preference. Relief efforts for climate-led disaster areas should include gender perspective as well. Food and relief packages must include nutrition and medicines required by pregnant women. Education and communication strategies should be devised to highlight the role of gender in climate-change policies and strategies.

Job opportunities for women should be created in clean energy projects and the forest sector. There should be separate demands for financial and technical support under ‘Loss & Damage’ for women unequally treated by the impacts of climate change.

More grants should be provided to conduct research on topics related to gender inequality and insecurity due to climate disasters to find practical solutions. More women should be included in the decision-making process for managing climate change to mainstream gender equality.

The writer is a graduate in public policy from the University of Oxford. She tweets @zilehumma_1

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