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Climate Change and Gender

In Africa, an estimated 80 per cent of the food supply is managed by women. Photo: FMIn Africa, an estimated 80 per cent of the food supply is managed by women.

Climate change poses a very serious threat to sustainable development and endangers the attainment of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Combating climate change is directly linked with alleviation of poverty.

Different effects

 Climate change affects men and women in different ways. Gender inequality is reflected in vulnerability and responsibilities and in the ability to respond to climate change. Unless the gender aspect is addressed directly in climate policy, climate change will increase the existing gender gap.

In developing countries, it is more difficult for women to acquire the resources vital for adaptation to climate change, such as wealth, technology, land ownership and education. On the other hand, women have an important role in agriculture, food security, water supply and health care. Strengthening the position of women in these and other sectors would serve to prevent the impacts of climate change. Thus, measures to affect climate change require fully-fledged commitment and efforts from both men and women. One of the main areas of focus in Finland’s development policy is to increase gender equality and to draw attention to the positive role of women in the UNFCCC climate negotiations.

Gender perspective must be mainstreamed

Mainstreaming the gender perspective in climate policy is important, in particular, because the impacts encountered by men and women are different. The most important means for curbing climate change are improved energy efficiency, increased utilization of renewable energy, reforestation and stopping deforestation. Adaptation to climate change requires actions to be taken in the sectors of agriculture, food security and water supply. Provision for extreme weather events caused by climate change also requires long-range planning.

The impacts of climate change are very tangible, especially in rural areas and in developing countries, where there are already visible examples of difficulties in water supply and weaker food security. Women in developing countries play an important role in these sectors and, for instance in Africa, about 80 per cent of the food supply is managed by women. Strengthening the position of women and increasing their operating potential are ways to promote mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. However, women’s role does not only crystallize as greater vulnerability owing to climate risks. While emphasizing gender equality, women should be seen as active players who for their own part can promote both the mitigation of climate change and adaptation to it. Climate change targets can only be met if the competences of both men and women are considered and both genders are committed to achieving climate targets.

Women’s role in relation to climate change

  • Women and girls in developing countries are often responsible for collecting firewood and cooking. More efficient energy sources would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would provide better and safer access to energy. In this way, energy could also be generated for lighting, which would promote educational opportunities after sunset.
  • As women in developing countries are responsible for growing the bulk of staple foods, changes in the climate, particularly with regard to growing seasons and precipitation, have a profound impact on women’s work and agricultural productivity.
  • Women, as farmers, need better climate and weather information and they must have more say in decision-making concerning land use.
  • As women are important actors in agriculture, they could also play a major role in reducing greenhouse gases from the soil and livestock by means of better agricultural techniques.
  • Women in rural areas could benefit if agricultural waste were used to produce energy.
  • Numerous studies have indicated that in natural disasters, the death rate for women is often up to four times higher than that for men. Women would benefit from strategies for reducing the risks of disaster.
  • Women, and especially the women of indigenous peoples, often possess valuable ancestral knowledge which, if included in decision-making, helps maintain biodiversity and facilitates responding to climate change.
  • On the basis of their role associated with energy, water and agriculture, women have the daily opportunity to follow the signs of climate change in nature, and women also often have knowledge about what would be the best course of action during various changes. Women’s skills and access to up-to-date information should be utilized in monitoring climate change.
  • Climate change and the related actions have major impacts on equality. They should be noted in contractual texts and in other official contexts.
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