Alinea Gender Equality Advisor Catherine Hill explains why gender equality matters in achieving transformative climate action.
In the early days of my career, I worked with the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development. As a Policy Researcher, I was part of a team looking at the importance of local knowledge to agriculture. One of the key points that guided our work was the recognition that different people in households and communities often hold different knowledge in the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity depending on gender among other dimensions, such as age. For example, women in a rice-growing region of Mali could identify 30 different varieties of traditional rice based on growth cycle, plant growth habit, plant height, number of stems, grain size and yield, colour, preparation quality, use and taste. Men had little knowledge about these traditional varieties of rice, instead understanding the three improved varieties they used in production.
Power of local knowledge
Through my work with the Commission, I learned about the power of local knowledge in strengthening food security, livelihoods and resilience to climate change.
Our ability to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts differs among groups of people because socially constructed norms reinforce often inequitable power relations and structural inequalities. Gender, age, ethnicity, ability, socio-economic status and geography can all affect access to resources, information, services and technologies, as well as participation in decision-making processes.
In communities around the world, women and adolescent girls, and in many cases younger men, have different capacities than adult men to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change. For example, they may have less access to climate information services and weather-based index insurance, leaving them without risk-management tools. Credit and financing institutions and mechanisms may not meet the specific needs or constraints of women or youth, who may also face limited access to credit or information to support the adoption of adaptation technologies or practices, such as drought-tolerant seeds and livestock breeds.
People with disabilities may face greater climate-related challenges in rural areas where infrastructure, resources and services are not as available as in urban centres. Women, and even men living with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and internally displaced people may also be more likely to face exclusion from decision-making processes focused on identifying and prioritizing climate solutions.
Evidence shows climate change can aggravate gender-based violence. In times of drought and water shortage, women and girls may be at greater risk of violence from men as they must walk greater distances to collect water and firewood. Climate crises can also cause families to marry off adolescent and younger girls, increasing the likelihood of early pregnancies and associated health risks, as well as having to leave school. For women and girls with disabilities, discriminatory social norms and stigma often exacerbate these impacts.
Women as catalysts for climate solutions
However, more women than ever are catalysts for change — organizing and leading climate solutions in their communities and around the world. Increasingly, organizations and networks are supporting women and marginalized groups and communities to strengthen their leadership skills in climate actions at all levels, as well as negotiation skills in formal climate-related decision-making processes. Women, youth, LGBTQ2I, Indigenous peoples and people living with disabilities are using information and communication technologies and networks to strengthen climate action and advocacy and influence decision-making.
This momentum offers an opportunity to leverage the growing commitment to identifying and implementing gender-responsive, socially inclusive climate solutions.
About Catherine: For more than 25 years, Catherine has applied her gender equality experience on climate change, adaptation planning, agrobiodiversity, food security, livestock, avian influenza, and HIV and AIDS to strengthen the agriculture sector. Her background includes supporting policy, programming, research and capacity initiatives with governments, the UN, the CGIAR and civil society across all regions. As a policy researcher, she supported UN commissions on science and technology (UNCSTD) and plant genetic resources (CGRFA), as well as the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women. Catherine is a Founding Member of WOCAN: Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.