Three reasons gender matters at the Paris climate talks

Barry Aliman rides her bicycle with her baby to collect water for her family, Sorobouly village near Boromo, Burkina Faso

Tuesday 8 December is ‘Gender Day’ at the United Nations climate negotiations which are taking place in Paris, France until 11 December. 

This designated day aims to assert ‘women’s role as leaders, innovators, and change agents in addressing climate change.’ But why is it vital that those making decisions on climate change do not ignore gender? 

1. The impacts of climate change are not equal  

Because of gendered social roles, women are most effected by climate change impacts, such as droughts, floods and other extreme weather events – despite having a smaller carbon footprint than men. It’s estimated that nearly 80 per cent of ‘climate refugees’ are female. 

These impacts are also felt most strongly by the world’s poorest people – of which 70 per cent are women. 

Expectations surrounding the social construction of gender, as well as unequal power relations, have an impact on the experiences of everyone. Women and girls are responsible for most of the world’s unpaid care work, as well as jobs like food, water and fuel collection. As a result, they find themselves with less time for education, paid work or participation in decision-making. 

Men are also negatively affected by climate change, particularly when they are poor. They may experience deep anxiety and stress when their rural livelihoods are undermined as a result of climate change and they are no longer able to fulfil their socially-expected roles as providers.

2. Food and water security is gendered 

Women’s livelihoods are particularly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as subsistence agriculture or water collection. As climate change impacts get worse these jobs will become even more difficult. Water and food security will become bigger problems.

Unsustainable food systems are contributing to environmental degradation, which in turn is exacerbating food scarcity and food price volatility. As the world’s main food producers and providers it is women, and often girls, who are being most seriously affected by climate change

Along with climate change comes a growing problem of water scarcity, with serious implications for crop production and food security. Women in many poor, rural communities are often responsible for collecting water for drinking and irrigation and are forced to walk further to find it. 

3. Who makes the decisions? 

Many climate change policies and processes overlook the gender dimensions of climate change or considering them irrelevant. Where gender issues are considered they are too often an ‘add on’.

A significant factor in this is the gender disparity in climate change decision-making. Women are underrepresented in national politics in most countries, as well as in global climate negotiations. But, there is evidence that more women in parliaments mean more international environmental treaties ratified.

But women are not powerless victims and are responding to the challenge of climate change in innovative ways, using their knowledge of local conditions to adapt to difficult and unstable circumstances and to develop mitigation strategies. 

People of all genders need to be involved in climate change decision making. The voices of the poorest – men and women – are rarely heard in national or international fora, leaving little opportunity to reflect their needs and concerns or to learn from their experiences of adaptation. 

Find out more

BRIDGE Gender and Climate Change Cutting Edge Pack.

BRIDGE Gender and Climate Change topic page.

Five things the UN climate negotiators could do for gender equality’

Further reading

The BRIDGE Global Resources Database contains a range of research and other resources on Gender and Climate Change. Here are three documents as a place to start: