Women Are more Vulnerable to Climate Change

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, which is why it is urgent to eliminate the structural inequalities that hinder the implementation of sustainable solutions

No Planet B

Women have limited access to and control of environmental goods and services; they have negligible participation in decision-making, and are not involved in the distribution of environment management benefits. Consequently, women are less able to confront climate change – image: Shutterstock

By María Victoria Espada  – Gender inequality, along with the climate and environmental crisis, is now the greatest challenge to sustainable development. While environmental degradation and disasters are affecting people around the world, they do not do so in the same way or with the same intensity. As always, women and girls, especially those living in vulnerable and marginalized conditions, are affected disproportionately.

Gender equality and climate change

Because of the close relationship between climate emergencies and gender inequality, the priority theme of the 66th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) was “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”. Meeting in New York City from 14-25 March, the commission discussed this theme for the first time in its history since its conception in 1946. The choice of this topic was undoubtedly conditioned by the previous United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow last October and November and the need to make progress in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Member States call outcome document historic

At the end of CSW66, UN Member States adopted the Agreed Conclusions, the outcome document that sets out agreed actions to combat climate change and gender inequality. Considered a “historic moment” by many Member States for its ground-breaking content, the adoption of the document was the result of long and intense hours of discussions and negotiations since the first draft was written in February. However, the process is not yet complete. The agreed conclusions have to pass the formal scrutiny of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN General Assembly. The actions proposed in the document will then be incorporated in national policies and programmes, in some cases through amendments to existing legislation.

“Up to fourteen times more likely to die”

The document recognizes that women are more vulnerable than men to the consequences of climate change, mainly because they live in greater poverty conditions and their livelihoods depend to a greater extent on those natural resources most threatened by climate change. Women also face social, economic and political barriers that limit their capacity to adapt. Considering their unequal access to resources and decision-making processes to boot, and it is no wonder that “research shows that women and children are up to fourteen times more likely than men to die” during climate disasters, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out at the opening session of CSW66.

No progress for one without progress for all

However, the document also highlights that women play a key role as “agents of change” in protecting the environment. Women have strong knowledge and experience that can be incorporated into climate change mitigation and environmental disaster reduction proposals and adaptation strategies. The report therefore suggests that member states should support a full, meaningful and equal participation of women in such responses, and facilitate gender mainstreaming in all policies and programmes. “Our global challenges are interconnected. There will be no progress for one, without progress for all. The climate emergency and gender inequality are two of the most pervasive challenges we face” said Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, at the opening of CSW66.

Obstacles facing human rights activists and grassroots organizations

The agreed conclusions of CSW66 also highlighted the crucial role that civil society organizations play and the importance of their contributions in the local and international spheres. Unfortunately, many grassroots feminist organizations and human rights activists have to face increasing challenges and barriers to their endeavours. As Sima Bahous put it: “the gender and climate movements are under-supported, under-resourced, under-valued and under-recognized”, and António Guterres hammered home the point, emphasizing that “we are seeing a pushback on women’s rights; we must push back on the pushback”.

A close link between mental health and climate change

The participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has been a key element of CSW since its inception. Although they can only be represented virtually in official sessions due to COVID-19-related restrictions, many of the latter contributed written and oral statements to the priority theme. As an example, Dianova International wanted to highlight the close relationship between mental health and climate change and the need to incorporate this approach into all development policies and programmes.

Challenging the stereotypes that fuel inequality

As in previous sessions, Dianova International also held a side event within the CSW66 Virtual NGO Forum (NGO CSW66), entitled: “Women at the helm of sustainable solutions to climate threats”. Panellists stressed the need to adopt eco-feminist solutions to climate challenges, incorporate the perspective of local communities, challenge stereotypes that fuel gender inequalities, and recognize women as leaders of change, ideas very much in line with the agreed conclusions of CSW66.