Gender equality is an all-encompassing subject which affects our society and must be included in the development of policy to boost effectiveness and broaden representation.
This sentiment was a major theme at the Commonwealth Foundation’s Exploratory Discussion on the Intersection of Gender and Climate Change.
Held in Barbados from June 4th – June 5th, this discussion was a part of a regional consultation in keeping with the Foundation’s mission to strengthen civic voices in developing resilient, inclusive, and effective policies.
Strategic Gender Mainstreaming
Gender analysis is one of the first steps toward correcting the existent attitudes toward gender issues in the Caribbean, Kimberly Carr-Tobias, Research Assistant at the West Indies (Mona Campus) informed the participants.
In her presentation entitled Understanding the Intersection between Gender and Climate Change, Carr-Tobias stressed that “Gender analysis allows for understanding gender roles and relations, recognition that there are gaps, identification of gaps, and leads to policymakers and practitioners using gender mainstreaming to achieve gender equality goals.”
But what is gender mainstreaming and how does it apply to policies?
Essentially, gender mainstreaming requires stakeholders to bring the perceptions, experience, knowledge and interests of women as well as men to bear on policy-making, planning and decision-making. It places gender equality issues at the centre of analyses and policy decisions, medium-term plans, budgets, and institutional structures and processes. This requires explicit, systematic attention to relevant gender perspectives in all areas, including the existence of a power imbalance.
Identifying the power imbalance in climate change policy
Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but links to social justice, equity, and human rights, all of which have gender elements.
Through a gendered lens, how does climate change affect men and women differently?
Caribbean women witness the nexus between climate change and gender issues on a first-hand basis. They are oftentimes highly dependent on the land and water resources for survival and are left in insecure positions.
Imbalanced power dynamics between men and women in the Caribbean determine who has what rights and who has what access to resources; resources needed to address climate change impacts.
Contribution of gender roles to power imbalance
Gender roles feed into the existing inequality and therefore the ability to deal with climate change impacts.
Women have the prime responsibility of taking care of everyone in the home and are affected by food security and water scarcity. Rural women are particularly vulnerable, especially smallholder producers, marginalised farmers, and agricultural workers.
Whether the food or water shortages are due to the increased amount and intensity of hurricanes or drought, their chances of living decent lives are not high and aren’t getting better. Women experience unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, with limited mobility in rural areas. It is thus important to identify gender-sensitive strategies that respond to these crises for women.
The fact that women are traditionally placed at the bottom of the barrel increases their vulnerabilities to climate change, while their access to the necessary resources are restricted to their gender roles.
Understanding this point of view is important for successful formulation and execution of climate adaptation strategies and policies.
Women are crucial actors in the food chain and they need finance and policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Climate change action in the Caribbean needs to have a sharper gender focus in order to ensure that women have greater access to climate finance, renewable technologies, and adaptation capacity.
Amplifying the voice of the unheard
It is important to note that effective climate change policies will not be those designed as a one-size-fits-all solution. We need men and women to be involved in the discourse.
According to Vijay Krishnarayan, Director General of the Commonwealth Foundation, “Governments are not equipped to handle these issues on their own. Forging partnerships and collaboration is critical. There needs to be dialogue, learning, and listening. The power relationships determine how action on climate change is played out and the success rate of projects to deal with climate change.”
As such, following in the Foundation’s footsteps, we must to ensure the less heard voices are put to the fore.
Economic security for women
Women have different roles in society, but it’s important to fix the situations they live in, before climate disaster strikes. Many do not have access to the basic resources needed to survive.
With an overarching goal to contribute to building disaster resilience of both women and men, their needs to be greater practical understanding of pervasiveness of gender. Disasters do not discriminate, people do.
Existing socio-economic conditions mean that climate disasters can lead to different outcomes even for demographically similar communities – but inevitably the most vulnerable groups will suffer more than others. In a less secure economic standing than men, disasters reinforce, perpetuate, and increase gender inequality.
A woman who is traditionally expected to tend to the farm is left with no means to care for herself and her family when hurricane strikes.
As such, greater access to climate finance is needed and the development of climate adaptation projects is pivotal.
Empowering women to lead
The potential contributions that women can offer to the disaster risk reduction movement around the world are often overlooked and female leadership in building community resilience to disasters is frequently disregarded. Women can contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities. Their extensive knowledge and expertise—that can also be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies—make them effective actors and agents of change.
In order for it to be effective, it must integrate gender equality, particularly women’s empowerment and gender responsiveness to the vulnerability of rural women.
Key to addressing the gender and climate change issue therefore, is dealing with the detrimental disparity between men and women’s access to economic resources and the mean of production.
With a female-centric farming population in the Caribbean, adaptation applies strongly women. They need to be empowered to play major roles in the climate change fight as they stand to lose so much.
As pointed out by David Bynoe, National Coordinator GEF SGP Barbados during the discussions, “It’s not about fragmented work but about building to make the overall impact better.”