Gender and Climate Change: Durban Explores the Intersection

by Rebecca Lefton

DURBAN — Most people do not think of climate change as a gender issue. But experts at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban, South Africa are trying to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact that a changing climate has on women.

Women are responsible for collecting water that is becoming increasingly scarce, and they are needing to travel farther distances to reach clean water supplies. Women are primarily responsible for putting food on the table, but food prices are rising and as climate change worsens agricultural productivity. And women are often the most vulnerable in war and regional conflicts, which will be exacerbated by resource scarcity.

A discussion held yesterday in Durban focused on these impacts. The panel featured the Honorable Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addressing climate resilience, Robinson stressed the importance of focusing on health and burden impacts of climate change. One of the keys is access to reproductive health for women.

However, access to reproductive health is not on the agenda during COP 17 in Durban. This absence is in part a product of the United Nations system, which segments women’s rights, reproductive health and climate change initiatives under different bodies—encompassed by UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change respectively.

On December 7, Robinson and other prominent female leaders at the COP, including Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and Connie Hedegaard, European Commission Commissioner for Climate Action, are convening a high-level meeting to identify the intersections between climate change and gender. The goal is to ensure that the COP outcomes have an appropriate focus on gender issues and to continue focus on the issue outside of the negotiations.

The linkages between climate change and family planning are still nascent. For instance, only one country’s national adaption plan includes reproductive health as a strategy — and that program is unfunded, said Roger-Mark De Souza of Population Action International. Yet, most of the places that are most vulnerable to climate change are also the same places that have a need for family planning.

We are missing out on opportunities to address global warming, health and women’s rights simultaneously. There is vast opportunity to make a cost-effective investment in reproductive health while also addressing climate change.

When crafting responses to climate change, we must also consider the impact on women and girls and include them in decision-making at all levels. Ensuring economic opportunities, providing education, and ensuring access to reproductive services can help limit vulnerability and improve health outcomes for women and the planet.

Rebecca Lefton is a policy analyst with the energy team at the Center for American Progress

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5 Responses to Gender and Climate Change: Durban Explores the Intersection

  1. Leif says:

    This child speaks for humanity in my view. Substitute “women” for “Jonah” and the story is the same. In Spades. We are the 99%and we have your back. We have the will to help. We do not have the power. YET! With our help, “You”, (ALL), will be so much stronger. With your help, WE will be so much stronger as well. “United we stand, divided we fall.” The “Jonah’s” and the “women” of the world are so much stronger than they give themselves credit for.

    One movement, one ultimate victory, the time is NOW!

    An Elder…

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It is still true that if you want to liberate women, you must also liberate men. Piecemeal strategies have had a marginal effect over the last 50 years because in an unequal world, everybody ultimately loses.

    We ARE one but we have been split so many ways, into nations, species, genders etc, and pitted against each other by our adversarial system, that we have lost sight of the whole.

    It is more than time to reinstate the whole and come together around it as equals. When we move towards the whole, all the parts benefit. This is not new or difficult and new diverse coalitions are showing the way, ME

  3. Belgrave says:

    I think this is an incredibly important issue. It puzzles me that more feminists are not involved in climate change campaigning.

    There are many excellent women involved, for example Joanna Macy:
    and Naomi Klein:,0

    but not, it seems to me specifically on women’s issues.

    If we look at the worst case scenario where civilised society breaks down completely with many millions of premature deaths and the survivors reverting to a dark-ages way of life ruled over by tribal warlords, the prospect for women is bleak indeed.

    It seems to me that a major underpinning of the progress women have made (in some countries) in achieving near-equal rights with men has two aspects. One is the invention of labour-saving devices from the industrial revolution onwards, meaning that the superior physical strength of young adult men is no longer vital to keep society functioning. The other, in my opinion more important, is the availability of reliable methods of contraception.

    Both of these would disappear in a primitive, post climate-apocalypse society and women would once again become mere chattels of the most powerful men in their tribe. Infant mortality would once again be very high and women of child-bearing age would be permanently pregnant or nursing.

    So women would lose even more than men. Feminists would do a great service for all women if they publicised this and women could be a considerable force against the denialists (mostly wealthy, white , middle-aged or older men, by the way).

  4. Frank Zaski says:

    It is imperative that women step up their fight against global warming. Psychologically, they are more receptive to information and the compassion for others and especially our prodigy.

    Women successfully led the charge to ban alcohol and save San Francisco Bay from over development. And, this was years ago when they had even less clot than today.

    We need all humans working on this one.

  5. alex mutua says:

    Women generally are intimately connected to the environment more than men. A great percent of sub-Saharan Africa women look after children and work on farmlands in rural areas while their men job in capital cities. Greatly, these Women primarily spend more time collecting water, gathering firewood and prolonged drought has forced women to walk and travel long distances to get water.
    Women producers and farmers in Kenyan Rural area are engaged in a number of on-farm and of-farm economic activities threatened by climate changes. While these activities are crucial for the development of the country, the technologies used to achieve the end products are time-consuming, energy-wasting and, therefore, very expensive in terms of the lives of women in Kenya.
    Placing women at the heart of sustainable development strategies is the much needed drive that will serve as a sound track for the clean future action, climate change mitigation and global warming awareness tool. And Educating sub-Saharan smallhold farming women on impact and implication of climate change is essential in the green future drive. Practically, by providing them with good knowledge, extended services on appropriate technological innovation, storage facilities and resource management will make climate change mitigation and adaptation goal achievable.