Women and climate change: accelerating climate action

March 2, 2023

March is Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day falling on the 8th every year. It’s time to reflect on the power of women, the struggles they face, and the changes we need to see to make our world a better and more equal place.  

An article by Mia Wreford, ClimatePartner

Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change 

Let’s start with a question: are those most impacted by climate change included in the global implementation of climate action and disaster response? 

Short answer – no.  

Long answer – absolutely not. 

The impacts of climate change are not felt equally across genders. Women* and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change due to existing gender and social inequalities. Around the world, women bear an unequal responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel, yet they have far less access to land, finances, and decision-making positions. To give you an idea:

  • Despite more than 75% of Kenya’s farms being run by women, since 2013 less than 2% of land title deeds were granted to women.
  • 70% of those living on less than US$1 per day are women.
  • Only 7 of the 110 world leaders at COP27 were women.

Existing social inequalities and systemic barriers to women’s participation in climate action mean that women are more vulnerable to the climate crisis and less able to respond to its impacts. For example, women and children are 14 times more likely to die or be injured during a natural disaster and tend to have less access to disaster response and financial or social support in the aftermath.

80% of the people displaced by climate change are women, but women’s voices and experiences are missing from the conversation, resulting in inappropriate and ineffective mitigation and adaptation initiatives for all.  

Because of this, we have to consider existing social barriers and gender dynamics when discussing, designing, and implementing climate change solutions.  

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

Women do lead the change 

Women have a huge role to play in combating climate change, and by prioritising gender equality, our response will be more innovative and further reaching. Worldwide, there are numerous examples to show that when women are uplifted, there are immense benefits to environments and societies overall: 

  • The Solar Sahelis in India train women to sell and maintain affordable renewable energy appliances for rural communities. This not only improves safety, respiratory health, and education, but also avoids carbon emissions. The group has provided over 100 million rural households with access to reliable light and 21,000 rural women with job security.  
  • Vanessa Nakate is a climate activist from Uganda who protested alone outside the Parliament of Uganda after experiencing unusually high temperatures in her country. She empowered other young people to join her and has since founded the Youth for Future Africa group and the Rise Up Movement, increasing African youth voices in international climate spaces. 
  • Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her Green Belt Movement established 6,000 tree nurseries to fight against desertification in Kenya while empowering women in the communities. She was also an early advocate for the Great Green Wall initiative to grow an 8,000 km belt of trees across the African continent.
  • Nemonte Nenquimo filed a community-led lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government for failing to consult with Indigenous people before offering large sections of the Amazon rainforest to oil companies. In April 2019, the Pastaza Provincial Court ruled in favour of the Waorani people, protecting 500,000 acres of rainforest from exploitation. 

Remarkable women continue to spearhead international climate action everywhere. Greta Thunberg started the School Strike for Climate in 2018, Cristina Figueres successfully steered world leaders to reach the Paris Agreement in 2015, Mary Robinson continually advocates for feminist solutions to climate change, and thousands of women scientists and engineers are developing climate technologies around the world.

Including women is key to tackling global warming 

Women and girls are not just victims of disasters and crises, but active agents of change and powerful organisers. By increasing the meaningful participation of women, we can simultaneously reduce social inequalities, accelerate climate action, and strengthen our ability to stay well below 2 °C of global warming and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. 

Female leadership and participation result in better outcomes for climate policy, reducing emissions, and protecting land. But what does it mean to put gender equality at the centre of climate action? Benefits include: 

  • Financing climate projects and technologies that enhance renewable and clean energy sources and support women’s participation in their development and use. 
  • Supporting the implementation of gender-responsive climate policy and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities. 
  • Promoting and funding women-led and women-focused sustainable solutions to climate change, including indigenous and grassroots nature-based solutions, resource management, and food production activities. 

One project in our portfolio, a microenergy credits (MEC) project in India, places special emphasis on empowering women microentrepreneurs. With start-up capital and training, participants are encouraged to earn their own income and thus make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of their families. This is made possible by providing access to affordable clean energy such as solar lighting, efficient cookstoves, or water purifiers. 

Additionally, a reforestation project that is currently under development in India gives ClimatePartner Impact an opportunity to partner with Indigenous women by providing funding to plant trees on privately owned, degraded land. The reforested trees are hosts to silkworms that start the silk value chain – providing women with a new skill set and a stream to generate regular income. This enables them to pay for their children’s education, pay off debts, and build savings, something women in the region have rarely been able to do.

A reason to celebrate! 

To conclude, we want to celebrate the incredible women of the world; the women we work with, the activists, the mothers, the sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. More women must be included in decision-making to promote equal and sustainable development. Women are powerful organisers, and when you empower women, you empower nations.

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*Climate change risks are significantly worse for Indigenous and Afro-descendent women and girls, older women, LGBTQIA+ people, women and girls with disabilities, migrant women, and those living in rural, conflict, and disaster-prone areas.