Alongside these risks, there are also opportunities for women, especially in the increasing international and national attention to climate change. A deliberate focus on rectifying gender inequalities could interrupt patterns of discrimination and expand women’s options, while making climate mitigation and adaptation measures more far-reaching and effective. Women have enormous potential as agents of positive change, both as actors in development and stewards of the environment.
The Issue: Quick Facts and Figures
· Women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, yet they have less access to productive resources and opportunities. Rural women are responsible for water collection in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries. Reduced or variable rainfall can increase the time required to collect water and cut down agricultural production.
· Globally, men’s landholdings average three times those of women. Women make up less than 5 percent of agricultural landholders in North Africa and Western Asia, and approximately 15 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
· Women account for two-thirds of 774 million adult illiterates in the world—a proportion unchanged over the past two decades. Disparities in education limit women’s access to information and vocational options, constraining their ability to adapt to climate change and environmental degradation.
· A recent study in 141 countries found that in highly gender inequitable societies, more women than men die when disasters strike.
· Women are still underrepresented in fields such as energy, industry, construction and engineering, all of which are expected to generate green jobs. The share of female employees in the energy industry is estimated at only 20 percent, most working in nontechnical fields.
· The number of women in environmental decision-making is limited, but where women are involved, better environmental management of community forestry resources and actions to improve access to education and clean water have been some of the results.
What Should We Do?
Eight Key Actions
1. Adapt for gender equality:The capacity to adapt to climate change largely depends on resources, education, technology and basic services. Since women have less access to all of these, national and local adaptation strategies will need to recognize and address these gaps. At the same time, women have existing stores of knowledge on adaptation that should be tapped. For example, rural indigenous women from the Bolivian altiplano shared knowledge with a local yapuchiris famers network on effective storage of seeds in cold weather with the wider community. This resulted in smaller food losses from climate-related temperature shifts.
2. Make women part of disaster risk reduction:The average number of extreme weather events—droughts, storms and floods—more than doubled over the last two decades. Disaster risk reduction lessens the vulnerability of people and property, including through advance preparedness and wise management of land and the environment. Since women face greater risks of injury and death, they must have a central role in disaster risk management, whether that involves early warning systems, climate-proofing infrastructure or other measures. For instance, women living in earthquake-prone areas near Lima, Peru learned to produce earthquake-resistant building components. They then negotiated with the local government for safe housing policies that have benefited 55,000 families.
3. Expand access to services:Public services are critical in helping women overcome discrimination that hinders adaptation to climate change, such as through education and health care. Services that fully respond to women’s needs require women’s participation in decisions that shape them, sex-disaggregated data to pinpoint gaps, and gender-responsive budgeting to ensure financing backs equitable delivery. Services are especially important for women in their roles as housekeepers and caregivers. Worldwide, around 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity, for example. This is bad for the climate and for health—indoor smoke from burning fuels like wood and charcoal kills 2 million people a year, mostly women and children in rural areas. And for many women, impacts of climate change mean walking longer distances each day to gather fuelwood and other energy sources. In South Africa, electrification raises the likelihood that women will get jobs by 13 percent, due to labour saving in the home.
4. Ensure technology delivers for all:Investments in fuel-efficient and labour-saving technologies could achieve multiple ends: such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving health, creating jobs for both women and men, and promoting women’s empowerment. But technology remains mostly the domain of men, for reasons ranging from affordability to stereotypes around male and female roles. one consequence is lost productivity—giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources, including technology, could increase production on women’s farms in developing countries by as much as 20 to 30 percent, for example. Technology could also reduce women’s time burdens and advance adaptation, such as through climate-appropriate crops and patterns of cultivation. In all cases, women, especially end-users, need to be consulted in the development of new technologies to ensure they are appropriate and sustainable. Poorly designed biogas stoves, for instance, may cut emissions, but increase, rather than decrease, women’s workloads.
5. Share the benefits of a green economy: The shift to green economies must equitably benefit both women and men, including through new jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. The energy and electricity sectors, for example, will likely generate a large share of green jobs as renewable energy takes off. Fewer women than men pursue the kind of training in science and technology that provides necessary skills for these jobs, however. This means that women provide an untapped resource for green growth. While women account for more than half of university graduates in several countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, they receive only 30 percent of tertiary degrees granted in science and engineering fields. More efforts are needed to ensure that women have equal opportunities in education and employment, and in access to credit and assets they can use for setting up green businesses.
6. Increase women’s access to climate change finance:Gender analysis of all budgets and financial instruments for climate change will help guide gender-sensitive investments in adaptation, emissions mitigation and technology transfer. But gender considerations are currently not systematically addressed in climate finance. This means losing out on two fronts: both in terms of women’s rights, such as to access jobs and services, and women’s potential as agents of change. The possibilities are there but need to be put in practice—emissions reduction credits under the Clean Development Mechanism could be used to expand energy access for women in poor areas, for example.
7. Uphold women’s land rights:Environmental sustainability in rural areas depends on strong legal rights to land ownership. But women have been left out—they comprise just 10 to 20 percent of landholders in developing countries. This diminishes incentives to make long-term investments in soil rehabilitation and conservation, and hinders women from accessing credit and other resources. Directed efforts can change this stark imbalance. For instance, as a result of advocacy efforts by UN Women and the Women Policy Network, the land distribution scheme for survivors of the December 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia allowed Acehnese women to register themselves as individual or joint owners in title deeds. Without this, ownership would have gone only to the head of the family unit, usually men.
8. Close gender gaps in decision-making:Sufficient numbers of women are not yet at the tables where major decisions about climate change and the environment are made. In negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change over the past decade, women accounted for only 30 percent of registered country delegates and 10 percent of heads of delegations. Worldwide, they occupy a miniscule portion of ministerial posts related to the environment, natural resources and energy. Affirmative action quotas are among the most proven strategies for rapidly increasing women’s participation in elected and appointed offices. This would be good for women and the climate. A study of 130 countries found that those with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties. At the community level, evidence from India and Nepal suggests that women’s involvement in decision-making is associated with better local environmental management.