Why Gender Equality and Climate Change is Important: Mainstreaming gender into projects protects the environment and your bottom line

Climate Change and Gender Equality are Related

From first glance, it appears like we are living in turbulent times when it comes to matters of climate change. And, unfortunately, one dirty secret is that neither the impacts of climate change on people nor the ways in which people respond to climate change are gender-neutral. How is this related? Gender equality is a condition for successful adaptation to climate change, and the successful transition to low-carbon pathways in all countries around the world, since its effects reach across borders and seas. This means that, if solutions are to be effective, climate change adaptation and low-carbon efforts needs to take into account the specific needs of men and women and the sex-disaggregated inequalities that may compound the impacts of climate change for poor women in particular, or prevent women from benefiting from climate change policy responses, from project proposals up to action and impact. 

Climate Change Disproportionately Affects Women

Courtesy of Daniel Wilson

Courtesy of Daniel Wilson

It’s crucial to think about why this is import when looking at climate change problems from a macro perspective. When thinking about climate change and its disastrous repercussions, we tend to think that both sexes are affected equally. However, women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change and this burden is exacerbated when understanding that the majority of the world’s poor are women. Therefore women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.

There are plenty of publications and initiatives that urge all stakeholders from the private and public sectors to address the gender dimensions of climate change, but many of the information falls by the wayside because the initial need for investment and action seems burdensome and expensive. However, it doesn’t require a large investment to address this, it just needs people to view these issues from different perspectives and include those perspectives in planning and execution. Indeed, some progress has been made over the past few years, but few strategies for climate change adaptation and low-carbon development take an appropriate, comprehensive gender responsive approach. That is where we all need to come in and shift to a better angle at addressing climate change. New sets of stakeholders working on climate change and development-related issues – including governments, civil society and the more recently emerging role of the private sector in low-carbon initiatives – are already emerging and we need to amplify this effort.Donors’ leadership on promoting a greater focus on the social and gender dimensions of climate change is also essential.

We are in exciting times when it comes to tackling climate change issues in a truly sustainable way, but there is much work to do be done. On an international level, governments and the United Nations have prioritized integrating gender into climate change policies. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have recognized the importance of involving women and men equally in UNFCCC processes and in the development and implementation of national climate policies that are gender-responsive by establishing a dedicated agenda item under the Convention addressing issues of gender and climate change and by including overarching text in the Paris Agreement, which was passed last year during COP21 and recently took effect. However, action usually takes a lot of time, money and agreement from several member states, which can create a huge delay.

Businesses, however, can address these issues in a quicker manner. Recently, many have begun to engage and drive the gender inclusive climate agenda, but most of them lack effective strategies for systematic integration of gender in their adaptation and mitigation work. With regard to private sector experiences of integrating gender in climate change initiatives, some level of awareness, policy commitments and efforts or plans to scale up successful pilot projects exist, but much work remains for gender to become truly and systematically incorporated into their climate change policies and programs. Businesses do not generally lack gender or climate change capacities, but many lack the capacity, resources and clear mandates to connect them.

Both climate change and gender capacities usually exist within organizations, backed in some cases by strong policies, but gender integration, particularly in climate change portfolios, is often weak. This is in part due to technical barriers and poor communication between climate change and gender experts, a lack of clear mandates and concepts in mainstreaming processes leading to a lack of adequate human and financial resource allocation for gender mainstreaming, and a lack of strategies to identify gender entry points across climate change policy work and project cycles. 

The Path Forward

There is often a gender disconnect in project and program cycles – between relatively strong gender analysis in the conceptual basis and planning of projects on the one hand, and the much weaker integration of gender perspectives into implementation, monitoring and evaluation of environment and climate change initiatives on the other. One of the biggest challenges is the development of useful methodologies to measure gendered climate change impacts at local, national and international levels. Because so many strategies and monitoring and evaluation frameworks have typically been gender-blind, much-needed evidence remains unavailable to businesses and policymakers. 

There needs to be a triangle between strategy, gender mainstreaming and action when it comes to creating sustainable projects that address climate change. Increasing diversity can play a critical role in response to climate change due to women’s local knowledge of and leadership in sustainable resource management and/or leading sustainable practices at the household and community level. Across the world, women’s participation at the political level has resulted in greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs, often increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines and delivering more sustainable development. At the local level, women’s inclusion in leadership has lead to improved outcomes of climate related projects and policies. On the contrary, if policies or projects are implemented without women’s meaningful participation, it can increase existing inequalities and decrease effectiveness.

We need to create bottom-up and top-down approaches that cross sectors in order to make this work, which is easier done when it’s thoughtfully put in place from ideation. It can come from the policy-makers, but we know that will take time, so we should be invigorating it from the private sector side in order to get the ball rolling. Doing that will require integrating different perspectives and diverse experts to address this problem. Only then we will really increase diversity and inclusion. It would be best to emulate the examples we want to see on the governmental stage by first incorporating them in our own organizations. 

At Sustainabilist, we are available and eager to collaborate on creating plans to boost gender diversity within organizations and to help create market solutions for real-world climate related problems