Climate change remains worse for women and girls — but it doesn’t have to be

Friday, March 8, 2024

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to highlight how, unless significant action is taken, climate injustices towards women will only continue, Salomé Lehtman writes. From local action to global finance, there are ways to ensure that climate adaptation programmes address gender inequalities.

Amina is one of tens of thousands of Kenyans displaced by catastrophic floods – aggravated by climate change – in late 2023. Her home destroyed, she and her child sought temporary shelter along with several other women from her community. “Our husbands left to take the livestock to high areas where floods would not hit,” she recalls. “Only women remained…. This led to an increase in rape cases for young girls and women”. With the floods preventing access to hospitals, or even medicine, she also witnessed pregnant women giving birth in the camps without appropriate, potentially life-saving care.

Now back in her village of Odole in the Tana River County, she works alone to rebuild her house – “it is the role of women to construct houses in this community”, she explains – while also planting new crops and ensuring that her child has enough to eat.

Amina with her child, January 2024. Photo credit: Euniah Miruka. Officer MEL, Concern Worldwide

Amina’s experience is illustrative of the unique challenges faced by women and girls, both during and after floods. In her village and others around the world, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is working with those affected by climate hazards to find practical ways to adapt to the changing conditions, and be better prepared for future risks.

Yet as we track the impacts of such disasters, the disproportionate impact on women and girls is observed all too often and in myriad ways — from an increase in the number of young girls being forced to marry in Bangladesh, to spikes in cases of gender-based violence in Malawi. The evidence is clear: unless significant action is taken, these injustices will only continue.

Involve women in decision-making

At COP16 in 2010, the Cancun Agreements acknowledged that gender equality and the effective participation of women are important for all aspects of any response to climate change. Yet almost a decade and a half later, widespread underrepresentation of women at all levels of decision-making persists.

Not only does this leave some women less informed — and therefore more vulnerable to climate impacts — but it also misses a chance to draw on their unique knowledge. Women often have first-hand experience of managing flood risks, combined with a wider grasp of the needs of their families and communities.

Women leading a discussion on flood resilience in Quang Tri, Vietnam. Photo credit: Phan Thi Thuy Van, Red Cross of Quang Tri

Actively engaging women in planning and decision-making can ensure a more comprehensive understanding of local vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. In places like Quang Tri in Vietnam, involving women in the conversation has positively impacted their resilience to flood events, as well as that of the wider population.

Elevating women to leadership positions can also generate additional benefits beyond preparing for climate hazards. In Bangladesh, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance has trained female Resilience Agents to share flood warning messages and guidance on disaster preparedness and response. Now they use their newfound influence in the local area to improve the lives of women and girls in other ways, such as tackling child marriage and gender-based violence.

Climate finance must be gender-responsive

Whilst increasing women’s participation in decision-making is integral to reducing the risks posed by climate-induced hazards, it is not enough on its own. Vulnerable countries need adequate climate finance, especially for adaptation in the face of increasing risks.

Research from the Alliance and ODI shows that far too much adaptation finance does not have gender equality objectives. In 2021, developed countries provided $28.2 billion (€25.8bn) in adaptation funding, of which less than half was reported to target gender equality. 

A woman salvages belongings from her home damaged by Cyclone Mocha at Saint Martin island in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2023. Photo credit: Al-emrun Garjon

Without ensuring that the distinct needs of women and girls have been considered, climate finance providers are neglecting a vital opportunity to ensure that adaptation programmes support all vulnerable people – men, women and children.

Significant uncertainty exists around precisely how much adaptation finance targets gender equality. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) requires the use of a gender marker for all climate finance specifically for monitoring this, but our report confirms that it was not used for 40% of the adaptation finance provided in 2021. This is largely the case even among multilateral development banks and climate funds that profess to follow explicit policies and strategies for improving gender equality.

Such tracking does not itself improve the quality of funding, yet it is essential to better understand progress, identify gaps and hold underperforming contributors accountable. It is therefore critical for gender equality markers to be consistently and transparently reported.

Seize the opportunity in 2024

Climate finance will take centre stage in climate discussions this year, with world leaders meeting at COP29 to agree on a new funding goal for the first time in fifteen years. This represents an unmissable opportunity to support billions of people around the world vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. However, even if a new and highly ambitious target is agreed upon, women like Amina will continue to be put at risk during climate-induced disasters unless the adoption of gender equality objectives in climate finance becomes the norm.

This, combined with the delivery of adaptation projects that specifically take gender considerations into account, holds the key to addressing existing inequalities and building safer, more inclusive communities for all.

This blog was originally published on on 8th March 2024. You can view the original here.

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