Gendered climate impacts

May 4, 2023

Does climate change impact men and women differently? The answer is yes, according to a UN report published in 2022.

Among key aspects highlighted include the gender-differentiated impacts of climate-induced extreme weather events, which includes among others impacts of events such as droughts, floods, extreme rainfall events as well as sea level rise. The impacts of these events are felt differently based on the differences among people and communities which build on social, economic, and other relevant factors. 

Climate science points to the differentiated impacts of climate change. For example, the 6th Assessment Report (AR6) of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes that different groups experience impacts of climate change not in the same way, due to diverse social factors. This includes the geographical location; educational background; financial capacity; gender; as well as other factors related to adaptive capacities and access to resources.  

Gendered impacts

In many cases where climate impacts threaten livelihoods, men are prone to move to different areas in search of income. This includes internal migration for livelihoods, as well as labor migration. Both these present different social impacts interlinked with adverse impacts of climate change. For example, in some cases of agricultural communities impacted by climate threats, the women and children are left behind while the males would move to urban areas to find employment. This in turn creates other difficulties in the households, where the women and children are faced with immobility, as well as at times face the burden of fending for themselves in a location which is short of resources to continue their way of life. It is also recorded that in many instances of extreme weather events, women and girls faces risks to their safety, and are potential subjects to violence. While the levels of experiences of individuals would differ, the experiences of constraints remain – be it due to lack of certain skills for survival such as the ability to swim in a flood/ limited access to financial resources. 

In addressing climate impacts, these elements that create the need for differentiated approaches for resilience building are addressed, to ensure that long term climate resilience is built while integrating gender responsive approaches which guide towards inclusive and transformative resilience building. 

Gender responsive climate action

To address the gendered impacts of climate change, it is important to ensure climate actions are gender-responsive. In achieving this, baselines which reflect the impacts of climate change amongst men and women; boys and girls are vital. 

However, in most cases, evidence and data that allow for better understanding these implications such as gender disaggregated data is a crucial element for climate resilience building. In many developing countries, (reliable and long-term) data remains a scarcity. This in turn poses difficulties for assessing the climate impacts, as a multiplier of threats to climate vulnerable groups, such as women and girls. 

The need for addressing resilience with gender-responsive and transformative actions is widely recognized, as well as the need for concrete actions for gathering data for planning processes which allow for solutions reflecting the ground realities. 

Participation and effective engagement of women and girls in decision making processes, as well as enhancing their access to information and climate-literacy remain also key areas of focus. The need for engagement of all in decision-making processes effectively, that could contribute to scaled up public participation in climate policy and action is a key element for scaling up climate resilience and of enhancing climate action at all levels. 

Inclusion and participation beyond tokenism

Inclusion of women and girls in processes at times remains a mere effort at indicating that the processes are inclusive and participatory. However, it is important that the reflection of inclusion, is also inclusion to processes in reality. 

While acknowledging the inclusive and participatory processes begin with the avenues for engagement, it is important that this engagement is not mere tokenism, but that those who are engaged are provided opportunities to engage and contribute, their voices are heard, and such engagement has the potential to facilitate transformative change. This includes both men and women, boys and girls having opportunities to engage and contribute to the processes effectively. 

To this end, it is important that opportunities for engaging all, with equitable access to resources and opportunities is recognized, and avenues for such actions are explored. Equitable and effective engagement of women and girls, could be enhanced through inclusive practices; knowledge sharing processes; spaces for engagement and working towards collective solution building would contribute to scaling up climate related leadership promotes inclusive processes for climate action. 

Policies and processes that integrate gender into climate action could pave the way for addressing the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change. Integrating gender responsive approaches into national and local climate policies, planning processes, as well as implementation of climate action will remain vital to ensure that climate vulnerabilities do not leave some more vulnerable than others. 

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍