Women leadership for mitigating climate change impacts

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Women leadership for mitigating climate change impacts

climate change

Impacts on women

As the recent publication on Science on January 11 reaffirms the accelerating pace of climate change evidenced by increased ocean warming1, it has been an alarm to world leaders and organizations to evaluate our efforts to its mitigation and impact prevention. Along with this, the exacerbating impacts among the vulnerable populations of world have also been apparent. Women constituting 50% of the world population fall definitely into this group, as the existing inequalities and labor division in many of the societies put women at the forefront of facing direct impact of climate change. As in many societies, women are mostly responsible for managing household chores, securing drinking water and meals for their families, they are exposed directly to the growing adversities.2 Further, women including children are 14 times more likely to die in natural disaster than men and suffer additional social, political and economic barriers. Women farmers also face disproportionate risk due to their limited access to natural resources and information about upgraded climate resilient technologies and strategic knowledge.3

Concerning the adverse impacts on life of impoverished and vulnerable populations due to climate change, the need of policies and interventions for its mitigation have been the global priority. As such, the meaningful participation and voices of women in decision making processes from household to national level has been recognized vital for ensuring climate justice to both men and women.

Role of women leadership and participation

Women’s participation and leadership in political decision-making have been known to resulting in better responsive outcomes to meet citizen needs, increasing cooperation among party and decision makers and deliver sustainable development.4 Numerous studies show that more women in parliament have resulted in priorities for gender responsive actions like equal pay, childcare, parental leave and ratifying more international conventions.5 Their participation and critical knowledge in the field of agriculture, livelihoods, income generations and natural resource management have also been recognized important for decision making in local levels. As in various issues, women’s voices in planning and designing climate policies also ensure better outcomes along with socio-economic empowerment of women. Enabling meaningful participation allows women to break the social and traditional barriers and change the societal perception on abilities of women. However, it is also widely recognized that having women in decision making table doesn’t necessarily mean guaranteed gender equality and empowerment. For ensuring this, meaningful participation of women, capacity building and enhancing their access to entrepreneurial resources and skills are important. Creating an enabling environment for women to participate by challenging restrictive social norms and stereotypical beliefs among organizers is also important.

Policies on gender and climate change

These realizations have led to an improved status of women’s role and participation in climate change area over the recent years. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reports that 64 out of 190 countries have referred women and gender to its plan addressing climate change. Along with this, the understanding of women and girls as agent for change and not merely ‘recipient’ and their role in establishing sustainable and effective climate action is firmly established.6 However, the situation was not always the same and it is still in the verge of development. It wasn’t until 2001, that UNFCCC officially recognized and made the decision- Decision 36/CP.7- to formally address women’s participation and representation, importance of women’s participation in climate action started gaining attention. Since then, climate change debates added gender perspectives with analysis of gender-specific impacts and having gender inclusive decisions. The UNFCCC continued to forward this argument and address gender equality through its COP Decisions 1/CP.16, 23/CP.18 and 18/CP.20. In order to reinforce these decisions, Lima Work Program on Gender (decision 18/CP.20) was established in 2014. This program aimed to advance gender balance and gender sensitivity in parties’ decision making process, annual plans and support the decisions by raising awareness and providing capacity building programs to parties’ female and male staff. The work program realized that “gender-responsive climate policy still requires further strengthening in all activities related to adaptation and mitigation as well as decision-making on the implementation of climate policies”3

With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2015-2030, the priorities on women participation and climate justice got further reinforced. The SDG 5 and 13 being ‘Gender equality’ and ‘Combating Climate Change and its impacts’ respectively, the organizations across the world are striving to achieve the goals through proper implementation. These decisions and developments became the foundation for women’s participation and leadership getting acknowledged in creating the Paris Agreement in 2015, including to-be-implemented Gender Action Plan which will reassure women’s voices in climate change negotiations. Now that 197 parties signing the agreement are moving towards implementation phase to achieve the goal of reducing global warming, there are increasing numbers of events and efforts taking place to promote gender-responsiveness through women leadership. Some examples are the Green Climate Fund (GCF) being launched which has mandated gender-sensitivity and inclusiveness of gender in its policies and action plans. Countries such as Honduras and Peru have also ensured high level gender integration in their climate change policies and plans.7 The Climate Summit 2018 held in Canada, hosted by Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change also celebrated women leadership in climate actions and focused on promoting women’s leadership in combating climate change.8


While the policies have significantly addressed women’s role and leadership value in combating the global threat, the challenges still lie ahead in its implementation and actually creating an enabling environment fighting the existing socio-political barriers to women. While we acknowledge the progress of women into leadership, the rate of women earning is still 24 percent less than men and they hold only 25 percent of administrative and managerial positions in the business world – 32 percent of businesses have no women in senior management positions. Women still hold only 22 percent of seats in single or lower houses of national parliament.7 In case of climate change impact mitigation, women leadership is equally important in local level as in national level. However, their limited access to finance and capacity building resources cause hindrance in their meaningful participation. Even though the role of women in understanding societal dynamics and power relations, and applying local knowledge to mitigate climate change impacts have been recognized, the efforts to create enabling environment for women to effectively articulate their expertise is limited. Also, lack of documented evidences on women’s leadership and their best practices in climate actions is also recognized as a gap which makes it difficult to empower other women and societies. Therefore, realizing the gaps between climate justice and gender equality would help to minimize them, ensure better climate actions with sustainable development and women empowerment.


  1.  Lijing Cheng, John Abraham, Zeke Hausfather, Kevin E. Trenberth. How fast are the oceans warming? Science, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7619
  2. Mary Robinson Foundation (2019). Women’s Leadership in on Gender and climate change. Retrieved from https://www.mrfcj.org/our-work/areas-of-work/womens-leadership-on-gender-and-climate-change/
  3. MRFCJ-_Womens-Participation-An-Enabler-of-Climate-Justice_2015.pdf
  4. 9 Markham, S. (2013), Women as Agents of Change: Having Voice in Society & Influencing Policy, The World Bank. Washington D.C.
  5. UNDP (2011), Human Development Report. Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All. United Nations Development Programme. New York.
  6. UNFCC (8 March, 2017) UNFCCC Celebrates International Women’s Day 2017. Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/news/unfccc-celebrates-international-women-s-day-2017
  7. Habtezion, S. (2016). Policy Brief-Overview of Linkages between Gender and Climate Change. United Nations Development Fund.
  8. UNFCCC (2018), Women leaders come together to fight change.

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