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Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change

The Threats of Climate Change are not Gender-Neutral

The threat of climate change, manifested in the increase of extreme weather conditions such as, droughts, storms or floods, has been recognized as a global priority issue. Climate change is a sustainable development challenge, with broad impacts not only on the environment but also on economic and social development. The effects of climate change will vary among regions, and between different generations, income groups and occupations as well as between women and men. Due, in part, to their lower adaptive capacities, developing countries and people living in poverty are likely to experience significant impacts.

Women form a disproportionately large share of the poor in countries all over the world. Women in rural areas in developing countries are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, because of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating. The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation, make it harder to secure these resources. By comparison with men in poor countries, women face historical disadvantages, which include limited access to decision-making and economic assets that compound the challenges of climate change.

It is therefore imperative that a gender analysis be applied to all actions on climate change and that gender experts are consulted in climate change processes at all levels, so that women's and men’s specific needs and priorities are identified and addressed.

Global UN Commitments, Resolutions and other Intergovernmental Outcomes Linking Gender Equality, Climate Change and Sustainable Development

In 1992, more than 100 Heads of States met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first International Earth Summit convened to address urgent problems of environmental protection and sustainable development. The assembled leaders signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, endorsed the Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles, and adopted Agenda 21, a 300 page plan for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. More information:

“The challenge of climate change is unlikely to be gender-neutral, as it increases the risk to the most vulnerable and less empowered social groups. In the formulation of global and national approaches, as well as in the strategic responses to specific sectors, gender awareness, substantive analysis and inclusive engagement will be necessary.”

Source: Overview of United Nations activities in relation to climate change -Report of the Secretary General (A/62/644), January 2008.

The countries which signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) committed to finding ways to reduce global warming and to cope with its effect on the environment and populations. With 192 State Parties, the Convention enjoys universal membership. The Convention is complemented by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, to which 184 State Parties have entered into force (via either ratification, acceptance, approval or accession) since January 2009. Under this treaty, 37 industrialized countries and the European Community have committed to reducing their 1990 level of emissions by an average of 5 percent by 2012. A major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that, while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize green-house gas (GHG) emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so. More information:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 called for further commitment to address climate change; and led to the Bali Action Plan to support the negotiation process towards the achievement of a comprehensive global agreement by the end of 2009. The Bali Action Plan reaffirmed that effectively addressing climate change requires mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as technology transfer and financing.

Although the UNFCCC does not address gender equality, there are numerous global commitments and agreements that make the linkage between gender equality and climate change. The International Conference on Population and Development (1994), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the 2005 World Summit all acknowledged the pivotal role women play in sustainable development.

The Convention to Combat Desertification which, as of March 2008 had 193 State Parties, recognizes the role played by women in regions of desertification and drought, particularly in rural areas of developing countries. It calls for its Member States to promote women’s participation in decision-making policies and programmes that address desertification and drought. More information:

In addition, the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that “Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life”, and to ensure that women are on equal terms with men in both Governmental and Non-governmental organizations and in regards to the development and implementation of policy. In addition, CEDAW emphasizes the unique challenges for rural women and the need to ensure the application of these measures in rural areas. For example, CEDAW calls for “access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes [Article 14.2 (g)] and to adequate living conditions, including adequate sanitation and water supply [Article 14.2 (h)]. In 2009, the CEDAW Committee issued a statement on Gender and Climate Change, expressing concern about the absence of a gender perspective in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other global and national policies and initiatives on climate change; and calling on States Parties to include gender equality as an overarching guiding principle in the UNFCCC agreement expected at the 15th Conference of Parties in Copenhagen.

In 2002, the Commission on the Status of Women considered the issue of climate change at its 46th session. The agreed conclusions on “Environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters” adopted by the Commission called for action to mainstream a gender perspective into ongoing research on the impacts and causes of climate change, and to encourage the application of results of this research in policies and programmes.

The Commission on the Status of Women considered climate change as an emerging issue in its 52nd session in 2008. Participants drew attention to the fact that climate change is not a gender-neutral phenomenon, stressing that it has a direct impact on women’s lives due to their domestic work and makes their everyday sustenance even more difficult. The Commission called for efforts on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women, specifically referring to the impact of climate change on women and girls. Furthermore, it called for governments to: integrate a gender perspective into the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of national environmental policies; to strengthen mechanisms; and to provide adequate resources to ensure women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels on environmental issues, particularly on strategies related to the impact of climate change on the lives of women and girls.

Consult: Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change:


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