Climate change and gender

Climate change and gender is unaffected with gender differences, and the simple and disconnected power relations arising from it, in the causes and effects of climate change.[1] The effects of climate change are not not gender-neutral - men and women are differently affected.[1] This results not from biological differences due to sex, but from the social construction of gender norms, roles and relations, which affect the accepted behaviors of men and women.[2]

In many cases, gender inequality means that women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. This is due to gender roles, particularly in the developing world, which means they are often dependent on the natural environment for subsistence and income. By further limiting their already constrained access to physical, social, political, and fiscal resources, climate change often burdens women more than men and can magnify existing gender inequality.[1][3][4][5]

Analysis of gender in climate change, however, is not limited to women.[6] It also means not only applying a binary male/female system of analysis on sets of quantitative data but also scrutinizing discursive constructions that shapes power relations connected to climate change.[7]

Gendered effects of disasters

Different numbers of death between men and women

A study by the London School of Economics found that, in natural disasters in 141 countries, gender differences in deaths correlated to women’s economic and social rights in those countries.[8] Due to their social standing, women in developing countries are not generally taught survival skills like swimming or climbing, meaning they are more likely to die in a natural disaster.[3][9] When women have fewer rights and less power in society, more of them die due to climate change, but when there are equal rights for all groups, death rates are more equally matched.[8]

Sexual abuse and disease transmission

Natural disasters disrupt daily routines and complicate gender and family roles, which can cause victims of natural disasters to feel powerless and frustrated.[10] These feelings often result in aggression against less powerful groups.[10] Women and children in developed and developing countries are at higher risk of sexual abuse during and after natural disasters than before.[11] Condom use during disasters is also lower than at other times, because of decreased access to condoms.[11] Combined with the accelerated spread of diseases and infections in developing countries, the breakdown of the social order and the malnourishment that sometimes accompanies climate change have led to higher rates of dengue fever, malaria, HIV, and STI transmission, especially for women.[12][11] Elderly women are also particularly at risk during natural disasters and times of crisis because they are more susceptible to climatically-induced health risks like disease and because they are often isolated from social support to which men and some younger women have access.[12]

Gender differences in perceptions of climate change

A study of young people in Finland shows that concern over climate change has a higher impact on climate friendly consumption in women compared to men.[13] This may be incidental to differences in perception of climate change.[14] Women tend to agree with the scientific opinion that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are mainly responsible for climate change (m: 56%, f: 64%) and are more concerned about its effects: 29% of men and 35% of women in the US "worry about global warming a great deal".[14]

Another study was conducted in 2016 using men and women from Brazil and Sweden to measure and inspect the effects of gender and political orientation on perceptions of climate change. Data was collected via online questionnaires from 367 participants from Brazil consisting of 151 men and 216 women, and 221 participants from Sweden with 75 men and 146 women. The results of the study showed a strong positive correlation between conservative men and denial of climate change in both groups (rSweden = .22, rBrazil = .19) indicating that men (typically with conservative political orientation) are more likely to deny the existence of climate change. Women in both groups mostly showed the opposite results, indicating that women are more likely to believe in the existence of climate change. [15]

Gender differences in contributions to climate change

Contribution to climate change - through emissions of greenhouse gases - is correlated to gender.[16] A study on car use in Sweden for example found that men are more likely to use the car more, for longer distances and alone compared to women, thereby emitting more CO2 (a greenhouse gas).[17]

Gender differences in vulnerability to climate change


The poor and impoverished are dependent on the environment and its natural resources for subsistence and income; poverty research reveals that many of the poor are women because, as a group, they have less social power.[12] Many women in developing countries are farmers, but women as a group have trouble obtaining education, income, land, livestock, and technology, meaning climate change may negatively impact female farmers more than male farmers by further limiting their resources.[18] In 2009, women produced between 60 and 80 percent of all food in the developing world, yet they owned ten percent of all agricultural land and approximately two percent of land rights.[12]

As the planet warms and access to water changes, the crop yields tend to decrease.[19] These effects are not uniform, and they have the largest impact on areas of the world where the economy depends on agriculture and the climate is sensitive to change.[19] In developing countries, women are often in charge of obtaining water, firewood, and other resources for their families, but these resources are directly impacted by climate change, meaning women must travel further and work longer to access them during crisis.[3][12] Climate change increases burdens placed on women by society and further limits their access to education and employment.[20]

Increased inequalities through climate change

Not only the impacts of The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report concludes that there is ‘robust evidence’ for an increase of gender inequalities as a result of weather events as well as for the perpetuation of differential vulnerabilities.[1] The increase of inequalities due to climate change can have several reasons. For example, girls often face more serious risks than boys due to unequal distribution of scarce resources within the household. This effect is amplified by climate change induced resource scarcity.[21] Furthermore, Climate change often results in an increase of out-migration of men. This leaves women with an increased work-load at home, resulting in a feminization of responsibilities.[1] Climate change is predicted to increase frequency and magnitude of natural hazards such as extreme heat.[5] During and after these hazards especially women are burdened with increased care work for children, the sick and old, adding furthermore to already significant amount of household duties.[1]

Gender differences in climate change science

According to a survey conducted IPCC WGI Co-Chairs and Technical Support Unit (TSU) on April 25, 2014, many of the polled authors stated that they saw the need for a better gender balance.[22] This is reflected in the gender balance of contributors to the fifth IPCC assessment report. Only 27% of contributors to Working Group II, concerned with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability[23] and 18,5% of contributors of Working Group I, concerned with the physical science basis, are female.[24] This also applies to other organisation, as for example only 7% of leadership positions in the offices of National Weather Services are women.[25] On a similar note, a study conducted by the University of Oxford in cooperation with the Nielsen Company found that 18 of the 22 ‘most influential spokespeople on climate change’ are male.[26] Female spokespeople were neither politicians nor scientists and their direct connection to climate change is therefore doubtful.[7] A list of prominent women scientists is available at Women in climate change.

Gender differences in climate change policy

Mitigation policy attempts to moderate the intensity of global warming’s effects through measures like reducing greenhouse gases and enhancing sinks.[27] According to research, men and women use their knowledge of their environments to mitigate disasters, transferring this knowledge through informal education.[11] Some of this knowledge includes food preservation processes, methods of construction, and understanding of natural resources in the area.[11] Examples of mitigation efforts include carbon emissions trading.[3] Mitigation efforts largely ignore gender.[3]

Adaptive policy involves spontaneous or planned efforts to tolerate the negative effects of climate change and take advantage of the beneficial effects.[28] Men and women respond differently to climate change[29] and subsequently also to adaptation measures, which can affect men and women unequally, when the gender perspective is ignored in the policy.[30] For example, the IPCC report AR5 points out that adaptation measures in agriculture can in some cases lead to increased gender inequalities.[31]

Most effective approaches for gender-sensitive policies

Some scholars recommend incorporating gender dimensions into research and using human-rights approaches like the Millennium Development Goals and CEDAW as frameworks for climate change responses.[3][8][32] Several organizations believe that linking mitigation and adaptation approaches, equally funding both types of efforts, and integrating gender into mitigative and adaptive policies will better address the consequences of climate change.[3][8] The UNDP mandates gender mainstreaming in all adaptation measures, meaning adaptive responses to climate change must consider gender and gender equality from their inception and cannot incorporate a gender component late in their development or only in certain areas.[20] Others believe that imposing mainstreaming agendas on communities can make gender-sensitive policy less effective and may even be counter-productive, emphasizing gender differences and isolating gender issues from other areas affected by climate change.[11]

Gender-blind mitigation policy

In 2009, a forest-protection mechanism called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) was agreed upon by attendees of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.[12] Many development organizations praise the REDD mechanism, but others criticize its function as a market-based instrument and its impact on local communities.[12]

Gender-blind adaptation policy

Some scholars believe that climate change policy that does not address gender is not effective.[3] Much of the climate change policy created before the 21st century focused on economic rather than social effects of climatic change and global warming.[3][4] Climate change research and policy began to look at gender in the 21st century.[3] The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Millennium Development Goals, and the Beijing Platform for Action are all gender-aware initiatives that may affect climate change policy.[3] Some of the international responses to climate change that do not address gender or employ gender-sensitive approaches include Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan.[3][12]

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have incorporated gender dimensions, the latter through a Gender Action Plan.[12][33]. Roehr[30] notes that, while the United Nations officially committed to gender mainstreaming, in practice gender equality is not reached in the context of climate change. Little data and research results in insufficient gender awareness in enacted gender policies.[30]

Including women in policy-making processes

Gender inequalities do not only emerge in context of climate change as a physical reality, but also within discourses of and negotiations over climate change.[7][16][34] This is reflected in the fact that men are dominant in all levels of climate change debate[16] – from the science to policy, from the local to the global level.[7] This has an effect on climate change policies.

Women can be important players in climate change policy because they have gendered knowledge about things like managing water resources.[8][35] While women in rural areas depend on the environment heavily, they are not usually represented in climate change decision-making processes.[8] CARE’s research shows that, when women are in control of the family income, it is more likely to be spent on human development.[2] Women are also generally more risk averse than men and make safer decisions.[2] Yet, in 2008, the EU Commission and Council on adaptation policy did not address gender at all.[3][12] Furthermore, gender roles and subsequent institutional and social pressures can pose constraints to adaptive capacities.[36] Most scholars and organizations working to address climate change agree that policy-makers must work with both women and men and take them into consideration at all levels.[2]

Patriarchy and climate change science and policy

Some feminist scholars hold that the debate on climate change is not only dominated by men but also primarily shaped in ‘masculine’ principles, which limits discussions about climate change to a perspective that focuses on technical solutions, and accounts for the inability to adapt to and mitigate climate change.[34][16][37] points out the impact of spatial practices that manifest power relations and marginalise women. The often-hidden subjectivity and power relations that actually condition climate change policy and science, lead to a phenomenon that Tuana[34] terms ‘epistemic injustice’. Similarly, MacGregor[7] criticizes the scientific discourse from a less quantitative perspective but focusses on discursive aspects. She attests that by framing climate change as an issue of ‘hard’ natural scientific conduct and natural security, it is kept within the traditional domains of hegemonic masculinity.[7][16] Seager[38] maintains that the 2 °C aim, which is a reoccurring topic in the climate change debate, is not, as often assumed, a safe goal for all people on the planet. Rather it will ensure the stability of a patriarchal capitalism and subsequently the continuity of power for those who are powerful today.[38]

Case studies


Bangladesh is prone to flooding and waterlogging because of its location as a river delta.[2][39][40] In 2012, it was labeled a Least Developed Country by the United Nations, with high rates of poverty and weak government, meaning it is especially vulnerable to natural disasters.[39][40] It is densely populated and about 63 percent of its population was working in the agriculture, forestry, or fishing sectors in 2010.[39] Slightly less than half of Bangladesh’s population is women and, in 2001, 80 percent of women lived in rural areas.[40] Bangladeshi women are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they have limited mobility and power in society.[2] Research shows that, after the cyclone and flooding of 1991, Bangladeshi women aged 20–44 had a much higher death rate than men of the same age: 71 per 1000, compared to 15 per 1000 for men.[40] Even if a cyclone warning is issued, many women die because they must wait at home for their relatives to return before they can seek shelter.[40]

As climate change progresses, access to and salinization of water sources are becoming problems in Bangladesh.[40] When there is a lack of drinking water, women are responsible for procuring it regardless of the distance they must travel or the terrain they must cover.[40] During natural disasters, male unemployment rises.[40] When men become unemployed, women's responsibilities increase because they must secure and manage income and resources on top of feeding the family and caring for children and the elderly.[40] As the number of men at home without income or occupation rises, more women report mental and physical abuse by their male relatives.[40] To cope with climatic change, women store matches, food for the family, fodder for the livestock, medicine, and fuel sources in safe places in case of disaster.[40] They also teach their children skills such as swimming to prepare them for crisis.[40] The global relief agency CARE believes that climate-resilient jobs such as duck rearing can help increase Bangladeshi women’s resilience to climate change.[2]

Since the disasters of 1991, Bangladeshi women are more involved in disaster response decision-making, through local committees and community organizations established by the government and NGOs.[2][40] As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), Bangladesh published a Poverty Reduction Strategy paper in 2005 that incorporated gender mainstreaming into its climate change adaptation plan, but as of 2008 those goals and policies were not fully implemented.[40]

South Africa

In 2010, South Africa was the region with the largest economy in Africa, yet more than half of the population lived in poverty and many were unemployed.[41] Impoverished populations of South Africa depend heavily on agriculture and natural resources to live.[41] Coal and metal ore mining were also significant contributing sectors of the economy, but are decreasing in the 21st century due to climate change and globalization.[41] In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that Africa would warm due to climate change 1.5 times more than the rest of the world and that South Africa, specifically, would be 3 - 4 °C warmer by 2100.[41] Water, agriculture, mining, and forestry would all be affected by these changes in temperature and weather.[41] The Human Sciences Research Council found in 2004 that 57% of South Africa's poor were at risk for negative climate change effects because they depended on rain-fed agriculture and climate change in Africa was expected to cause longer and more intense periods of drought over time.[41] Many of the rural poor in South Africa are women who have only limited access to property, income, credit, resources, and social power.[41]

In South Africa, men traditionally look after the livestock while women look over the garden, but in extended periods of drought, many households lose their livestock.[41] In response to this loss and to increasing unemployment, men are turning to alcohol to deal with the psychological stress.[41] Some are also increasing their number of sexual partners, increasing their risk of contracting or spreading HIV.[41] In response to these changes, more women are entering the workforce, either formally or informally. Some are now working in traditionally male occupations like mining and construction. Others are making and selling goods locally.[41] Social grants from the South African government further support households affected by the changing climate.[41] These grants include pensions, disability payments, and child support.[41] In some cases, when men are responsible for the distribution of social grants in the household instead of women, they use the money to purchase alcohol.[41] In response, the government tends to give grant money to women, which can cause domestic disputes within households.[41]

Understanding of climate change in South Africa is based mainly on experience and local knowledge, which is communicated orally.[41] Women tend to hold more of this knowledge than men do because of their experience with farming and gardening.[41] In response to drought, some women plant crops near wetlands or other water sources.[41] They also preserve food for periods of drought or crop failure.[41] Despite their knowledge of climate change, many responses in South Africa (like the South African Country Study on Climate Change Vulnerability & Adaptation Assessment) do not address gender.[41] While women in South Africa are represented in the government at national and provincial level, there are not many women in government at a municipal level.[41]


The Climate & Development Knowledge Network commissioned a film to be made on the impact of climate change women in India. Directed by Krishnendu Bose, the film looks at the way in which women, who make up two thirds of the farming workforce, are poorly represented in agricultural policy. It depicts the challenges faced by rural women working in agriculture where drought and flooding is harming their livelihoods and ability to farm vegetables and fish. It shows isolated stories of success where resourceful techniques are integrated into farming despite challenges from climate change and poverty, such as Rita Kamila, who feeds her chickens over her flooded fields in order to grow the number of fish that now live in her fields. She is able to earn money from the growing fish stock. The film calls upon policy makers to support local initiatives like Rita's to bolster the resilience to climate change and to enhance the work that the women are already doing to protect communities against its risks. Currently only land owning farmers are entitled to government schemes, but only 10% of land owning farmers are women, thus it is critical to scale up women's access to government schemes.[42]

Controversies regarding gender and climate change

"Women as vulnerable" vs "Women as virtuous"

There are two concurring themes that emerge when examining climate change and gender: "Women as vulnerable or virtuous in relation to the environment."[43] This means that women living in countries in the global South are more likely to be affected by climate change than men in those countries and that men in the global North are more likely to contribute to climate change than women. These assumptions about women's vulnerability and virtuousness are negative because they are reinforcing the global North/South biases, which is that women in the global South are poor and helpless and women in the global North are well-educated and pro-environmentalists. These debates are also negative in that they are deflecting the attention away from climate change.

Women furthermore possess unique skills and knowledge, which are important in building equal and sustainable responses to climate change. The UNFPA report State of world population 2009 - Facing a changing world: women, population and climate identifies women as important actors in mobilizing against climate change. The report quotes Wangari Maathai that “Women hold the key to Climate’s Future”; “when we talk about reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, we need to focus on women […]” Specifically, Carolyn Sachs discusses the struggles women face on a global scale against environmental factors such as gender arrangements in agricultural development. Often times women become oppressed by their Corporate counterparts as a more focused point of reference in women's vulnerability. Women labor is exploited as a way to keep them from fighting back in turn, during the mid year season change they face vast struggles of extreme climate change and availability to natural resources.

See also


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