Climate change and gender equality

© Gilbert Glaser
Water shortages (Africa)

UNESCO, and its Division for Gender Equality, are committed to mainstreaming gender equality considerations throughout all of UNESCO’s initiatives aiming at mitigating and/or adapting to global climate change.

The impact of climate change is gendered, as it is vulnerability to both rapid-onset events and long-term climate-induced changes. These events magnify existing social and economic inequalities, particularly gender inequalities.   

Evidence shows that more women than men die from natural hazards in those countries and communities in which the socio-economic status of women and men is highly unequal, since women and girls disproportionally suffer the consequences of lack of education, low level of contact with institutions working on disaster prevention, higher poverty, constraints in mobility, reproductive responsibilities and social norms which severely limit their survival options. Physical disadvantages thus interact with social norms, roles and behaviours, increasing the vulnerability of women and girls.


© Diganta Talukdar.
Cultivation in Nagaon District, India by Diganta Talukdar.

Both during and in the aftermath of an extreme event, the adaptive capacity of women and men is also highly gendered, because women, in many contexts, have less control over capitals such land, have limited employment and economic opportunities, lack voice in decision making, do not enjoy the same personal or inheritance rights than men and have often no access to collaterals. Moreover, scarcity exposes women to increased levels of abuse and violence, while the distribution of recovery assistance can become

inequitable if gender disparities are not systematically taken into account, causing severe consequences on the long-term ability of the whole affected community to recover. All these factors reduce women’s capacity to adapt to and overcome hazards both in the short and long term. In particular, immediate short term coping strategies like a reduction in food consumption or long term ones like early marriage or migration are highly gendered and can perpetuate or exacerbate existing disparities between women and men. 

© Y. Wibowo
Flooding (Jakarta, Indonesia)

However, while existing evidence underscores the vulnerability of women to climate change, there is also a wealth of evidence which underlines that women play an important role in supporting households and communities to mitigate the effects of and adapt to climate change, since women have led and continue to lead many of the most innovative responses to environmental challenges, both in their productive and reproductive roles. At the local level, women provide particular kinds of social capital for mitigation, adaptation and coping, actively organizing themselves during and after disasters to help their households and communities. Women are often in the best position to influence changes in behaviour for better disaster risk management as well as to participate in and manage post-disaster efforts.   Women also significantly contribute to map risks and vulnerabilities and play an important role in early warning. In many contexts, the decrease in the number of deaths and the male-to-female ratio after disasters is attributed to the active engagement of women in disaster management. Moreover, women’s knowledge in adaptation (traditional and community specific) is an important resource in education for sustainable development.   However, women’s contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation is still limited, due to the fact that they are largely under-represented in decision-making processes. 


UNESCO is a member of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA)

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Gender Equality and Biodiversity at UNESCO

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