Climate change is proven to affect men and women differently due to specific socially constructed gender roles and the status of women within societies. Consequently, women experience an inordinately large burden of the repercussions of climate change (GGCA, 2016, p.4). Different factors perpetuate the disproportionate effects of climate change on women, such as poverty and gender roles. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that rural women living in Global South are one of most vulnerable groups to climate change. According to the World Bank (2000), it is imperative to reduce global poverty, so that women are less vulnerable and better prepared to recover and resist the increasing frequency of climate change caused disasters (Cannon, 2002). Environmental degradation and poverty are caught in a vicious cycle, in which poor people over exploit already strained resources, and further degradation leads to further poverty due to the lack of resources (Glazebrook, 2011). A general consensus of international governing bodies is that unless there is a serious effort to reduce poverty, as climate change intensifies hazards, women will become increasingly affected (Cannon, 2002).
Socially constructed gender roles have typically delegated women to the role of running the household. Although these responsibilities around the world differ, women have the burden of gathering resources for family life, which vastly affect the state of the environment and their own quality of life. Glazebrook (2011) writes that gendered roles require women to produce and prepare food for their families, yet food is becoming increasingly challenging to gather because climate change is an intensifying problem for food security. Women in in the Global South are more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods (Terry, 2009). They are more likely to live an agrarian lifestyle and are responsible for collecting water and fuel, which can be heavily influenced by a change in climate. Women and girls in the Global South have to travel on average six kilometres a day to collect 20 litres of water, which will probably only increase with climate change, and further decrease the time available for them to participate in education (Seager, 2009). Comparatively, women in the Global North vastly influence the material consumption of goods available in markets, therefore they are responsible, whilst running a household, to purchase environmentally friendly products (WEN/NFWI, 2007, p.10). Consequently, governments need to understand the needs of women in their countries, to ensure their policies help women respond to climate change.
While women were previously only seen as victims of the increasing hazards from climate change on the international stage, international governing bodies are now trying to change the dialogue. Instead of seeing women as victims, rather women are viewed as agents of change with “important perspectives and indigenous knowledge” that can assist mitigation policies (Alam, 2015). The Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) summarized this change in dialogue by commenting that the world is currently trying to understand the “biggest challenge facing humanity” with only 50% of its intellectual and social resources (WEN, 2010). The UN suggests that all people should “participate in all aspects of development, including planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation”, which includes women (United Nations (Inequality), 2015).
The greater number of women in positions of power allows for a greater chance for their views and experiences of climate change to be included in policy making. In addition, if women are included in the discussion, there is a greater chance that the policies introduced do not exacerbate gender discrimination (WEN, 2010). Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that the involvement of women in mitigation plans will not guarantee that their experiences be taken into consideration (WEN, 2010, p.37). However, it is important to integrate women into high places of power and leadership on the national level to create a more balanced society and to increase the chance that their views are heard (Alam, M. et.al. 2015, p.9).
Thus, it is of concern that WEN/NFWI (2007) found that women are underrepresented in all positions of power, “representing only 17% of FTSE (The Financial Times Stock Exchange) boardroom appointments, 18% of MPs (Members of Parliament) in Britain and 19% of scientists and engineers”. Important decisions on climate change are made by scientists and in boardrooms, which are spheres of society that are dominated by males, therefore women’s voices are simply not being heard (Macgregor, 2014). This unequal representation violates women’s human rights. The UN has suggested that providing equal education opportunities for girls and boys is an easy solution to problems of inequality. However, in some societies educating girls is still considered a “waste”, because their primary position should be in the household rather than the workplace, and they are seen as “less capable than boys” (Seager, 2009, p.80). In order to increase the number of women in leadership positions, all girls need to reach an acceptable level of education, especially in science subjects. Therefore, it is important for governments to break these societal norms that prevent equality and efficient climate change policies.
Women are under-utilised as agents of change within their communities. However, there are a few issues that need to be carefully considered to prevent stereotyping and normalising the situation. Women are praised for having, in general, lower emissions per capita than men, a greater awareness of climate change, and greater willingness to change, however this sometimes overwhelms discussions of increasing women’s participation in mitigation policies and ignores increasing women’s involvement in politics (Bendlin, 2014). This can perpetuate the cycle of gender inequality, because it disregards the root of the problem, which is a lack of women in leadership positions.
In addition, “gender-neutral” politics runs the risk of burdening women with environmental care, because of their greater awareness of climate change (Macgregor, 2014). Bendlin (2014) is concerned that “gender-neutral” politics will add to the unpaid work that social norms force upon women. Macgregor (2014) warns of the masculinization of current environmental debates, because most of the scientific discoveries, mitigation strategies, and policy decisions were made by men. Women are at risk of not receiving powerful leadership positions, because of the male dominated climate-change debate. There is a danger that climate change could be placed on the shoulders of women to resolve “while letting men off the hook” (Bendlin, 2014).
Finally, it is important to stress that female representation in climate change policies does not guarantee that gender issues will be taken into account. However, evidence suggests that having more female negotiators increases the chances that their interests, views and voices will be heard (WEN, 2010, p.37). It is important that women of different ethnicities and classes are included in climate change mitigation decision making, to ensure a balance of all views are considered.
Governments need to understand that gender-climate policies are not just necessary for helping to save the current world and environment that we live in, but also because it is a human right. It is a woman’s right to be allowed access to help influence and create policies that understand and adhere to her perspective as an active member of society, to protect against a potential hazard in the future.
Alam, M. et al. (2015) “Women and Climate Change: Impact and Agency in Human Rights, Security, and Economic Development”. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
Bendlin L. (2014). Women’s Human Rights in a Changing Climate: Highlighting the Distributive effects of Climate Policies. Cambridge Review of International affairs. Vol. 27. No.4, 680-698
Cannon, T. (2002).” Gender and Climate Hazards in Bangladesh”. Climate Change and Gender Justice. Pp.11-17.
Glazebrook, T (2011). “Women and Climate Change: A Case-Study from Northeast Ghana”. Hypatia, Volume 26, Issue 4.
Global Gender and Climate Alliance. (2016). “Gender and Climate Change: A Closer Look at Existing Evidence”. Global Gender and Climate Alliance
Macgregor, S. (2014). “Only Resist: Feminist Ecological Citizenship and the Post-politics of Climate Change”. Hypatia. Vol.29, no.3.
Seager, J. (2009). “The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World”. Penguin Group, NY
Terry, G. (2009). “Climate Change and Gender Justice”. Warwickshire, U.K; Practical Action Pub.
WEN, (2010). “Women Constitute 80 per cent of climate-change refugees: up to 20 million”. WEN Press Release. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/559d276fe4b0a65ec3938057/t/55ed9508e4b0f3b1af6c99f5/1441633544535/wen-press-release- 02-03- 2010.pdf