Gender and Climate Change – understanding the linkages

by Klever Descarpontriez 


Climate change threatens to alter the world as we know it. It poses an environmental and social crisis. Climate change affects genders differently, yet not all genders participate equally in coming up with solutions. Institutional sexism at the decision-making process, prevents women from meaningfully engage in negotiations and politics. This exclusion results in policies that are not gender-responsive, nor gender-sensitive, and that further exacerbates existing inequalities—like poverty and gender inequality for example.  

It is precisely in these inequalities that I decided to focus on, as a human ecology student and climate activist, in the last four major U.N. climate talks I had the opportunity to attend. World leaders are trying to solve the climate crisis through negotiations and policy, but by focusing merely the environmental side of the problem, they risk missing the point. We have the opportunity to address climate change in a way that reduces both, emissions and the gender gap.

From my experience, as a young climate activist, following gender issues in the climate talks, I have learned that having women at the negotiating table is essential, not only because they represent more than half of the world’s population, but also for the knowledge and experience they can contribute to negotiations. As the climate regime starts a new chapter with the adoption of the Paris Agreement last December, here are some things climate activists, could keep in mind as we move forward into 2016.

We must acknowledge and applaud the great contributions of women in the fight for climate and gender justice. We must recognize their consistent efforts toward gender equality by constantly challenging systems of oppressive and structural violence. In those lines, I would like to highlight that we are still far from achieving gender equality. Men still dominate many political spaces, even those that claim to advocate for gender equality like the United Nations. Instead of analyzing and dealing with systemic problems, our societies have chosen a discourse that simplifies issues by analyzing them in an ahistoric, apolitical, and anti-structural context. In my experience engaging with the UN, this discourse greatly reflects the current state of the global conversations and actions meant to combat climate change. Not only does this discourse falls short to address the effects of the climate crisis, but also it fails to ensure that women have access to a more just and equitable world.

We need to keep promoting inclusive spaces where everyone feels welcome and embraced, particularly women. As young climate activists, we can already see what the grown-ups have contributed to the subject. Now it is important that we learn from their mistakes and build on their successes without replicating systems of oppression. 

We need to base our policies and actions on a systemic and structural analysis of the origins of the climate crisis, giving specific consideration to how climate change affects different genders. Lorena Aguilar, Global Senior Gender Advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, put it clearly when she stated that “climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and slows progress towards gender equality […] gender equality is a prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty reduction […] these inequalities are magnified by climate change.”(1) Climate change hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. A UN Women report says that “more than 1 billion people in the world today(2), live in unacceptable conditions of poverty mostly in the developing countries.” It also says that out of that billion, “the great majority of them are women.”(3) 

My vision for the next ten years would enable the poorest and most vulnerable to effectively adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. Our greater climate policies must first address the pertinent issue of access to and control over natural resources. Secondly, these policies must tackle the greater power relations in the social, political and economic spheres at all levels. And finally, at the same time these policies have to address the binding commitments based on equity, justice and historical responsibilities as established in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

To make this vision a reality, we need comprehensive agrarian reforms that speak to the realities of small-holder farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, pastoralists, and other vulnerable groups. New agrarian reforms have to recognize their vast knowledge and contributions to adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change. We also need a clean energy system that is decentralized, located in the commons, and governed by the principles of equity.

We need a transformative approach that helps policy-makers include women in policies and praxis to build a new, just and healthier world. We should be cautious of not falling into practices of tokenism––putting women in a panel discussion to fill a gender quota––but rather engage women and men into the debate in a meaningful manner. Furthermore, we should start normalizing gender-responsive approaches at all levels, in local, national and international political actions.

The climate movement must engage all genders in promoting gender equality and a more sustainable world. There are a few ways in which we could advance more gender-responsive and gender-sensitive policies and actions:

In the short run, we could assign specific financial resources to enable women to participate equally in benefits and opportunities of mitigation and adaptation measures; create opportunities for the education and training of women on climate change.

In the long run, we could develop strategies to improve and guarantee women’s access to and control over resources; use the specialized knowledge and skills of women in the strategies for survival and adaptation to disasters and mainstream gender-responsive—in design, implementation and assessment of projects, among others.

Climate change creates and/or exacerbates inequalities and unequal oppression.(4) Only by addressing the climate crisis in a holistic manner can we ensure freedom and equality for all people and genders.





  1. Aguilar, Lorena. “Gender Perspectives on Climate Change.” Commission on the Status of Women Fifty-second Session (n.d.): n. pag. The United Nations, 25 Feb. 2008. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
  2. Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Climate Change: The Poor Will Suffer Most.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.
  3. “Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
  4. Dossa, Aliya. “Inequality Explained: 7 Ways Climate Change and Inequality Are Connected.” OpenCanada. N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.



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