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Gender and Climate Change : Giving the “ Latecomer ” a Head Start

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Relevance to three pillarsHuman, Societal and Developmental aspects of Climate Change Y
Adaptation to impacts of Climate Change Y
Equitable Low-Carbon Development N


Denton (i) seeks to illustrate the different strands of the gender and climate debate and offers possible suggestions of why gender was almost perceived as an afterthought in the climate discussions; (ii) looks at three climate sensitive areas: agriculture, water and energy, and how adaptation strategies could be crafted to help women and men in these sectors; and (iii) looks at the general discourse on gender and development, identifying lessons that could be learnt by gender and climate change activists.


Although gender issues are now an integral part of development, they made a slow entry into the climate debate and remain far removed from the cut and thrust of mainstream climate policy. Women have the key responsibility of fetching water, fodder, collecting firewood, all very much part of the rural landscape and the mindsets of many societies where such activities rest squarely on women’s shoulders and those of their children. Consequently, they bear almost disproportionate hardships relating to both the provision and shortages of such vital necessities.


Climate change is a global phenomenon, but its consequences will impact differently on women and men. Women tend to have less access to valuable resources to help them develop their adaptive capacity to potential threats and to avoid or minimise the negative impacts of climate change. Limited access to land and land tenure and poor credit facilities could forestall poverty and hinder adaptive measures. Taking pre-emptive steps to understand and to reduce such differential impacts could help women and therefore poor communities to better adapt and avoid them being left voiceless, trapped in perennial cycles of poverty, privation and ignorance.


• Rice production, which provides 8 per cent of the food energy for almost 1 billion people, could be adversely affected by climate change. Women and men need to be introduced to suitable adaptation and mitigation strategies (e.g. how to lower methane emissions and manage water resources) and women's active involvement in rice production must be factored into adaptation strategies (e.g. training, credit, crop marketing).
• Adaptation strategies must also seek to address existing structural problems as well as develop coping strategies that would make effective use of available water, taking gender implications into account.
• Limited access to energy services places women in an unenviable situation – constantly in the quest of firewood and liable to pay fines imposed by forest agents for breaching the law. There is a need to look at diversifying options to include waste management projects that would improve agricultural productivity and waste options that can be converted to energy (e.g. through the CDM).
• Introducing forest management projects that take into account women’s indigenous knowledge and offer new skills to help improve crop species, soil quality and water conservation could also prove to be very beneficial to rural communities.
• Linking gender and climate change should go beyond demonstrating the vulnerability of women and their need for focused and tailor-made capacity development. Efforts should be devoted to include a wide range of stakeholders, particularly women and the poor, whose participation in national and international policy processes is relatively recent and remains to be fully effective.

Directions for future policy & research

• It is important to establish collaborative research groups that cut across political (e.g. North/South) and disciplinary boundaries and do so in an integrated fashion by linking the relevant Convention on desertification, biodiversity and climate change, together with gender issues.
• Reviewing the gender division of labour in terms of who does what, may help development practitioners craft the right adaptation strategies according to the differential needs of women and men.
• The research on the linkages between climate change and gender remains in its infancy. Much is far too general and a lot is still not adequately tied to the international negotiations. Policy makers will need to know in more detail, for example, areas where gender mainstreaming is relevant and where it is a policy priority. National and international research bodies should seek to fund such research and to promote its dissemination to raise awareness.


Denton Fatma