Commission on Status of Women Takes on Gender and Climate Change

Climate Change and gender are often treated as distinct and separate issues by policymakers in and out of the UN system. But there is more and more evidence that the two are interrelated in profound ways. As the Commission on Status of Women (CSW) wraps up in New York this week, attendees turned their attention to the relationship between climate change and gender equality.

Anna Falth, Manager of the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment of UN Women tells UN Dispatch that the nexus of climate and gender begins with unpaid care work.  It seemed like a tenuous connection at best, but there is a logical progression.  Falth explained that women are often the ones taking care of the home.  In places without reliable or affordable electricity and running water, hours of their days are spent fetching firewood for cookstoves and going to the nearest well. This type of unpaid care work also gives women little to no time for formal education or income generating activities.

Another less direct, but increasingly important, component of how climate change is a women’s rights concern is the changing labor market.  Falth says that women cannot “be bogged down by unpaid care work not taken care of by public services.”  It results in a vicious cycle.  Those very ‘public services’ that would lighten the burden of unpaid care work, including providing cleaner water, improved sanitation, and access to affordable utilities, are fields that require formal technical training and education of the variety the women do not have the time or opportunity to pursue.  UN Women has illustrated it quite clearly here.

Liane Schalatek, Assistant Director of Heinrich Boell Foundation North America, explained to UN Dispatch that the other component of the gender-climate nexus is a common development issue, financing. She says “climate change solutions could be discriminating” particularly in Africa because “gender dynamics of food procurement and distribution both within households and markets” and the unpaid care work economy are not often taken into account.

There is hope, however, with the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism set up to address and fund the outcomes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Schalatek explains that the GCF has a “gender-specific mandate” so there is “no take it or leave it” when considering women’s rights in deciding on climate change solutions.

Of course, the gender consideration will come after the GCF accepts the pledged funds from member countries, which is what Schalatek says is “the larger, over-arching challenge.”  She notes that GCF is in the process of developing specific indicators to measure gender-sensitivity. As a result of their last Board meeting, much of the funds look like they will be allocated to adaptation, which seems to be the area most crucial to gender equality (because the majority of subsistence farmers are women).

In observing CSW58, one of the more basic problems in recognizing the nexus of climate change and gender equality is that women’s rights groups and climate change activists often operate in silos. Out of the 200 events at CSW58, only a few address the environmental concerns highlighted above – a cause for concern as climate change will disproportionately affect the more vulnerable populations.

Photo Credit: Woman farming near Timbuktu, Mali. UN Photo/Marco Dormino