Climate change and disaster has once again been on the lips of all Australians these past weeks as we witness the devastating floods in Queensland and NSW. For countries in the Asia-Pacific region, these scenes are all too common.
The IPCC Working Group report on climate change released this month confirmed that ‘across sectors and regions, the most vulnerable people and systems are observed to be disproportionately affected’.
An integrated approach is needed to address climate change, gender equality and interlinked crises, which would drive more effective responses for the most marginalized and climate affected populations. Very timely then is the Commission on the Status of Women starting this week at the United Nations, with the theme of gender responsive climate and disaster risk recovery. The priority theme of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women or ‘CSW’ happening in New York at the United Nations from 14 to 25 March 2022 is ‘achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.’ On the table for discussion will be the links between gender dimensions of climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Tarawa street scene with a king tide on Friday, 30 August 2019. Image: Pelenise Alofa/KiriCAN
Gender is not irrelevant to disaster risk reduction and climate change. Impacts differ across populations. Disasters and other emergencies have specific and substantial impacts on women and people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. These impacts are also exacerbated by climate change. Emergencies substantially increase the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage and trafficking. Sexual and reproductive healthcare during emergencies, including provision of safe and dignified menstrual hygiene management, is lifesaving. Addressing the needs of women and people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression during emergencies can be achieved by adopting an intersectional approach to disaster preparedness, risk reduction, response and recovery.
Coherent and coordinated gender responsive national policies and programs are essential to support gender equality and sustainable development. This is backed up by research into gender-responsive climate responses which found that integrated approaches to climate change that drive transformative change in gender relations must value women’s localized and traditional knowledge; support women’s participation in decision making; resource women’s collective action; and address unequal gender norms.
CSW will be highlighting best practices, sharing knowledge, highlighting the critical role of women and girls at the heart of climate resilience, food security and mitigation and adaptation. Gender inequality leads to disproportionate impacts on women and girls. Policies and programs need to address the structural inequalities and power imbalances for women and other marginalized groups to adapt to climate change.
Greater attention must be given to specific needs of women and girls and access to resources and meaningful participation in decision making. Gender must be integrated into the design and implementation of measures. Women and girls’ inequalities and discrimination faced in the impacts of environmental damage and climate change impacts must be reflected in policy debates and practical actions. Gender equality and tackling inequalities must be placed at the heart of climate solutions.
Join us in October for the ACFID Conference where we delve into the intersections between equity, inclusion and climate change.
Dr Jane Alver
Dr Jane Alver is the Director of Effectiveness and Engagement at the Australian Council of International Development. She holds a PhD in political science with a research focus on gender, the Pacific region and civil society.