On my last night in Jamaica, I visited Hillshire Beach in Portmore with a group of friends. I had read the stories of the degradation of this beautiful local beach and imagined the decimation of sandcastles as the sea crept up the shore and onto the paved areas. Yet still, I was unprepared for what I saw.
Sargassum lapped at my legs as I stood in the water, reflecting on the fact that what lays before us was the visual proof of everything we’d discussed during our time in Jamaica, as participants in the Commonwealth Foundation’s 2nd Meeting on the Intersection between Gender and Climate Change in the Caribbean, 29th – 31st June.
credits: Warren Brown from Flickr
Following up on its exploratory 2018 discussion with over 40 civil society leaders from all over the Caribbean Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Foundation collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environmental Facility and the Institute of Gender and Development Studies (University of the West Indies) to host a second meeting in Jamaica.
In the 2018 meeting, participants indicated a need for capacity-building. In response to this, the Commonwealth Foundation hosted the second meeting to introduce and open up participatory involvement in the development of a Climate Change and Gender Guidance Tool. This Guidance Tool was set to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations in the Caribbean and to understand the linkages between gender and climate change. It was assessed as a good tool to integrate gender perspectives in their work and use gender analysis to support gender-sensitive policies and programmes.
During the meeting in late July this year, we all shared knowledge from each of our countries and discussed best practices for investigating and addressing climate change through a gendered lens.
credits: Commonwealth Foundation
Lesson Learned: Uneven Distribution
It is a matter of fact, that the climate change burden is unevenly distributed and so are the resources to ease the strain of climate change-induced losses and damages.
For some, climate change remains a distant rhetoric, a hoax. For the developing world however, it is a harsh and undeniable daily reality. Case in point, despite Jamaica’s miniscule contribution to global climate change, the sea level rise we witnessed on Hillshire Beach is just one climate impact casting an ominous shadow over the socioeconomics of the island.
Physicist and director of the Climate Studies Group Michael Taylor, confirmed to the Jamaican Gleaner, that “the loss of beach is significant; it is estimated at 0.26 metres per year for Jamaica, with sea level rise and post-storm events. And the beach retreats at about 100 times the rate of sea level rise.”
In other words, the island is losing land and coastline which negatively affects the livelihoods of citizens. This is a truth for Small Island States around the world. Regardless of the abounding observable and scientific proof, diminutive quantities of resources to deal with climate change trickles down to the grassroots, indigenous, and community organisations, and at a sluggish pace.
Lesson Learned: Women Need Resources Too
Addressing the unequal dissemination of resources in Caribbean society is crucial to achieving holistic climate action and policies. A major takeaway from the discussion was that climate change impacts people differently – in terms of socioeconomic circumstances, disabilities, age and gender.
It is known that investing in women and girls creates a positive domino effect, however, in the Caribbean the little resources available are further unequally distributed between men and women. This is also because in the Caribbeans, the majority of women still hold traditional female gender roles.
But when natural disaster strikes, women are usually the first responders. They lead disaster risk-reduction efforts at the household and community levels, and contribute to post recovery by addressing the early recovery the needs of their families and the community.
Women are also the members that secure food supply to their families.
According to the United Nations, women comprise approximately 43% of the agricultural labour .When hurricanes strike more regularly, or when drought persists and scorches the land, where does this leave the women who depend on the land and sea for food security?
Providing these women with equal resources as men can positively influences climate adaptation and sustainable development efforts.
credits: Commonwealth Foundation
A History of Unequal Power Distribution
The history of the Caribbean region has contributed to various forms of inequality. However, gender is a crosscutting issue that results in different roles and responsibilities that have been learned through interactions in the family, school, religion, peers, and the media. As such, it is particularly important for civil society leaders to understand the importance of gender as they seek to address climate change impacts.
Engaging in gender analysis is about understanding power and who makes the decisions in society. Who decides on the distribution of resources and who decides the composition of leadership on a community and national level? Is it representative?
The unsweetened truth is, in the Caribbean, social, economic and political institutions reinforce and reflect unequal roles, responsibilities, and status based on ascribed gender roles, responsibilities, power and status despite commitments to equal human rights and opportunities.
Breaking the institutionalised gender inequality entrenched in the norms and culture of the region will allow for gender mainstreaming in development policy. Rather than being just a goal, gender mainstreaming is comprehensive approach to development.
All Voices must be Heard
Gender inequalities can create vulnerabilities, which must be considered when planning for adaptation to climate change and natural disaster-risk management. Observing the world and climate change from a gendered perspective will make us more aware of how gender intersects with other factors like age, race, class, religion, political affiliation, education.When solutions to climate change address these different realities, they are more effective and their impact ripples throughout society.
Even as the bus driver zoomed on the narrow roads of the steep mountains in Nine Mile, I was not only thinking of the different ways the bus could flip over or the crazy driving techniques of Jamaicans. I also reflected on the integration of gender in the upcoming COP 25 discussion. This COP is set to evaluate and report on the progress of the implementation of the Gender Action Plan.
Given that women face significantly higher disadvantages in their ability to respond to climate change impact, is the Caribbean ready to overcome its systemic unequal distribution of power and resources and create opportunities for the survival of all?
Because If one voice is muted, then we are failing the entire society.