The Earth’s climate today is changing faster and in more unpredictable ways than ever before. This year itself has seen innumerable disasters
What is Climate Change?
Climate change refers to rising temperatures, extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, increasing sea levels along with a host of other impacts that are a result of mostly anthropogenic factors. While the earth and its ever-changing environment have been studied for decades, a feminist approach to this study is relatively recent.
Climate change will result in a rise in marginalization, suffering and vulnerability of many people, especially those belonging to the Global South. But even within this part of the world, the impact of climate change will be felt differently across the various sections of society. Intersectional ties of gender, class and race will determine how climate change is experienced (Sultana 2014).
Read: Environmental Sociology
What is Gender?
Gender refers to the specialized roles, opportunities and responsibilities, created by society that are identified with men and women. Furthermore, it refers to the covert power structures that dictate the dependence between both sexes. It is also argued that inequality between both sexes is socially constructed through the unfair treatment of women, and is not a result of biological factors (UNDP 2010). There are five critical components of gender equality. These are rights, opportunities, value, situation and outcome and agency.
Read: Gender Sociology
Feminist Political Ecology
Feminist political ecology is a feminist approach situated within political ecology. It takes upon a gendered analysis to understand the decision-making processes and socio-political forces that influence the environment (Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter & Wangari 1996). Feminist political ecology draws on political ecology’s Marxist heritage and is thus centered on questions of access to resources and control (Elmhirst 2015). Ecologists from this field suggest that gender in addition to class and race shapes control and access to natural resources. This approach to ecology aims to build bridges between sectors that have historically been kept apart such as academia, activist organizations and policy-making institutions thus connecting theory with practice (Sundberg 2015). A more contemporary strand of this outlook focuses on viewing climate change through a gendered lens. A gendered analysis of climate change illuminates how men and women relate differently to climate change due to their context within power structures (Kaijser & Kronsell 2014).
Women’s Vulnerability to Climate Change
The gap between men and women regarding vulnerability to climate change may be attributed to five leading causes.
The first is limited access to resources. Women belonging to poor and rural communities have constrained access to essential resources like land, tools, livestock and credit. Generally, even though women can access resources like land, they are unable to use it as they please since they do not own it. In countries like India, this is very ironic since women play a central role in agriculture (UNDP 2010).
The second culprit is a dependence on natural resources that results in the sexual division of labor. Women are the prime managers and users of natural resources. This means that they are dependent on resources most liable to being jeopardized by climate change. For example, women are commonly in charge of fetching wood and water for the house. But, climate change impacts like reduction in rainfall and increase in temperatures would reduce the availability of forests, thus hampering women’s roles (UNDP 2010).
The next reason is the lack of education and resultant unequal access to information. In developing countries like India, the education of boys is prioritized over that of girls. Hence, girls receive less education than their male counterparts. This results in women being at a disadvantage since they are less capable of responding to information surrounding climate change and adaptation efforts as compared to men (UNDP 2010).
The fourth culprit is limited mobility. Men often use migration as a coping mechanism but women are barred from leaving their villages. This is a result of gender roles that dictate women must remain at home to care for children and the household. Moreover, the fact that they are less educated limits their chances of finding employment. At home in villages, women are more vulnerable to climate change in two ways. Firstly, they remain where the effects of climate change are the worst and secondly, they lose the chance of personal growth and economic opportunities that migration provides (UNDP 2010).
The last reason is the limited role of women in decision-making processes. Often, women’s voices are silenced in family and community decision-making due to their subordinate position in society. This is unfortunate because of women’s extensive knowledge surrounding natural resources and their potential conservation (UNDP 2010).
All of these factors widen the gap between men and women concerning how vulnerable they are towards changes in the climate. These contributors display that women are not more vulnerable because of their biological sex, but in fact, their frailty arises from the social repercussions of their gender.
Women’s Vulnerability to Disasters
It is crucial to study the gendered vulnerability to disasters because climate change is projected to drastically increase the frequency of hazardous weather events like hurricanes and cyclones. More women die of natural disasters than men due to the direct result of two facts. The first is women’s social exclusion. Women run slower than men, do not know how to swim and their mobility is limited due to behavioural restrictions. Long-term rehabilitation and recovery phases also incorporate gendered differences since women lack land and other assets. They are more likely to encounter sexual harassment, trafficking, food shortages and vulnerability to diseases during the post-disaster phases (UNDP 2010).
Gender Gap in Views of Climate Change
According to a study done in the USA, not only do men and women have different experiences of climate change, but they also view them differently. A few interesting results from the study state the following. Firstly, women are more concerned about the environment than men. Secondly, women possess stronger pro-climate beliefs and opinions. Finally, women scored lower than men on scientific understanding of climate change. Thus, women compared to men, would be in favor of public education initiatives (Ballew, Marlon, Maibach et al. 2018). The study goes to prove that differences in knowledge of climate change might lead to different opinions upon it and thus also different actions towards it.
Effects of Climate Change on Women
After reviewing the plethora of factors that contribute towards women being more vulnerable to climate change and disasters, the next step is to study the effects of this gendered vulnerability. The potential impacts of climate change and their effect on women are elaborated upon below.
The first significant change is an increase in ocean temperatures. Loss of coral reefs would damage tourism, an industry in which women comprise a major portion of the workforce worldwide. The second change is an increase in water shortage. Since women and girls are the primary collectors of water, this would majorly affect them. A reduction in the availability of water would increase the workload of women and lead to lower school enrollment figures for young girls and thus fewer opportunities to earn income. The third change is an increase in natural disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes and floods that would kill more women than men. The next change is an increase in epidemics. Women have fewer chances of surviving epidemics such as malaria and cholera due to their reduced access to medical services. The fifth change is a loss of species diversity. Women rely on crop diversity to adjust to variations in the climate. But a permanent increase in temperature would reduce biodiversity and have a negative impact on food security. The last major change is a decrease in crop production because of which rural women who are responsible for food production would be adversely affected (UNDP 2010).
Read: Environmental Movements
Gender mainstreaming is the method of including women to the processes of designing and implementing policies in political, social and economic spheres to achieve gender equality. This tool can be used to help implement gender-sensitive programs. A few steps that can be taken to do this are listed below. Firstly, statistics on women as well as men should be included while presenting data. Secondly, the talents and contributions of both men and women should be capitalized. Thirdly, it should be ensured that women are represented in 50% of all decision- making processes (UNDP 2010).
There are many advantages of employing gender mainstreaming in development projects. It allows policymakers to focus on the causes of gender inequality instead of only studying its outcomes. Moreover, it improves gender equality in policies and projects that would not have previously considered gender as an issue. Hence gender mainstreaming can be seen as a comprehensive solution to the gendering climate change issue. This is because gender-blind adaptation programs are harmful to development. For instance, women are often in charge of water management and should, therefore, be consulted about the location and construction of new wells (UNDP 2010).
The following programs and initiatives are examples of how gender-sensitive legislation has evolved in the past decades.
The Women’s Union in Da Nang City
Typhoon Nari hit Vietnam in October 2013. In preparation for the typhoon, a local Women’s Union developed multiple storm-resistant shelters. They helped 245 homes that did not need to evacuate from their homes when the typhoon hit. The early preparedness and disaster mapping by the women-led organization was essential for the survival and recovery of many people (Wedeman & Petruney 2018).
Crop Diversification in Nicaragua
The local women of Jinotega, Nicaragua, a country in Central America, came up with innovative solutions for increasing food production. After receiving training, tools and seeds, the women collectively came up with new plans for the agricultural land. After five years, four times the original number of community plots possessed diversified crops and the crop production of each household increased by five times. Within the same time period, the annual earnings of each farmer also increased six-fold (Wedeman & Petruney 2018).
Solar Sisters Promote Clean Energy in Africa
Solar Sisters works with women belonging to rural communities in Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to make clean energy technology available to all. A women-centred sales network is used for marketing solar energy products such as cookstoves. This program works toward both eradicating energy poverty and also economically empowering women. The Solar Sisters program boasts of more than 2,000 female entrepreneurs who reach out to almost 3,00,000 beneficiaries (Wedeman & Petruney 2018).
The various case studies above prove that a gender-sensitive approach has been taken towards disaster preparedness and response. Additionally, women-led food production strategies have been implemented. Lastly, women’s participation in clean energy sources has been supported. Such programs support the fight for gender equality and reduce women’s vulnerability to climate change and disasters.
Ballew, J, Marlon, J, Maibach, E et al. (2018). Gender Differences in Public Understanding of Climate Change. Retrieved from https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/gender-differences-in-public- understanding-of-climate-chag/
Elmhirst, R. (2015). Feminist Political Ecology. The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology. 519-530.
Kaijser, A & Kronsell, A. (2014). Climate change through the lens of intersectionality, Environmental Politics, 23:3, 417-433, DOI:10.1080/09644016.2013.835203
Rocheleau, D, Thomas-Slayter, B & Wangari, E. 1996. Gender and Environment: A Feminist Political Ecology Perspective. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10919/70076
Sultana, F. (2014). Gendering Climate Change: Geographical Insights. Professional Geographer, 66(3), 372-381. https://doi.org/10.1080/00330124.2013.821730
Sundberg, J. (2015). Feminist Political Ecology. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280741205_Feminist_Political_Ecology
UNDP, 2010. Gender, Climate Change and Community-Based Adaptation, UNDP, New York.
Wedeman, N & Petruney, T. (2018). Invest in Girls and Women to Tackle Climate Change and Conserve the Environment. Retrieved from https://deliverforgood.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/10-D4G_Brief_Climatechhange-R3.pdf