Gender-Responsive Climate Action

Expert commentary on achieving gender-responsive climate action

At the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Parties adopted the Gender Action Plan, which outlines priority areas of action, including gender-responsive implementation of the Paris Agreement and gender balance, participation and women’s leadership. On the sidelines of COP23, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Government of Grenada co-hosted a side event that explored what gender-responsive climate action looks like, bringing together a number of experts to discuss themes such as women’s empowerment, inclusive policy-making and innovative practices to advance gender-responsive climate action.

This article summarizes some of the highlights from these discussions.

Julie Dekens, IISD: A gender-responsive approach goes beyond sensitivity to gender differences. It seeks to actively promote equality—this often involves specific actions to empower women in their households, in their communities and in their societies as well as in broader political and planning processes.

We think that gender responsive climate action involves three key elements, which are highlighted here.

Key elements of gender-responsive climate action

Key elements of gender-responsive climate action

The first element is about recognizing gender differences in needs, opportunities and capacities related to climate action.

The second element refers to equitable participation and influence by women and men in climate-related decision-making processes. The key word here is about influence because equitable participation of men and women does not necessarily mean that women will be able to influence decision-making processes.

The third element that we would like to highlight on the issue is focusing on gender-equitable access to financial resources and other benefits such as climate information, technologies and services that are resulting from investment in climate action.

Peter Wooders, IISD: Based on our work through the Global Subsidies Initiative, we know that if all fossil fuel subsidies worldwide were reformed—both low prices to consumers but also the support to the producers of oil, gas and coal—global greenhouse emissions would go down by 10 per cent. A very, very significant number and a very strong part of any climate response.

We know a lot less about what the gender aspects of current energy pricing policies are and about what the gender impacts of reform would be.

We looked at what information there is on how energy pricing affects gender specific outcomes and how does the reform of energy pricing affect gender-specific outcomes. The literature basically doesn't go that far. We can conclude from the literature that subsidies are very inefficient at targeting the poor. We know as well that women, girls and gender issues more generally are more highly represented in the poor parts of the economy and the poor parts of society than they should be on average. But there's very little work that says how current energy prices and the reform of subsidies and their possible impact would affect gender.

Policy reform should not remain blind to gender. Reforms need to be planned such that they mitigate impacts on the poor and mitigate impacts on women. It's not a fait accompli—when you make an energy sector reform and there are expected impacts, you don't have to accept those impacts. There are ways of reforming, of redesigning the policy, rejigging it such that it gets the impacts that you want.

Context is absolutely vital. It's not just that countries are different. There are huge disparities within countries and within regions, and policy needs to take account of that.

Read the report "Gender and Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform: An audit of data on energy subsidies, energy use and gender in Indonesia":

Gender-Responsive Policy Making in Grenada

Kerricia Hobson, Government of Grenada: For us in Grenada, we believe in a participatory and inclusive decision-making process. This includes ensuring that a space is created where all members of our country, including women and youth, are able to be actively involved in shaping the country's direction on all matters related to climate change. We are fortunate in Grenada to have a society where our women do have opportunities to sit and are given a voice at the table where policy decisions and actions are being discussed and decided.

We have made efforts to include gender sensitivity and other considerations into some of our key policy documents that address climate change and other issues. For example, Grenada has recently approved our National Adaptation Plan, which calls for gender equity throughout all parts of its implementation and, which included the full and active participation of women in its development.

In 2014, we passed our national gender equity policy and action plan in Grenada and we've also incorporated gender into our growth and poverty reduction strategy. So, we're paying close attention to ensure that we address issues of gender equity and inclusiveness when we draft our policy documents.

As it relates to the participation aspect in Grenada, we're making really good strides. For example, if you look at the composition of our cabinet, about 33 per cent is already women. Further, we have elections coming up next year, and almost 45 per cent of the candidates who are on the ballots are women. So, we are making strides towards the inclusion of women, particularly in the decision-making process. Interestingly, if you look at our ministries and our government bodies, they're almost dominated by women. I think at this stage in Grenada, we might have more of a crisis of men to be honest in terms of the participation that we see. The women are very, very much aware of their agency and their purpose and their place in the decision-making process. They ensure that, if you try to leave them out, they'll make themselves known. So, it's good for us.

One of the top priorities for us is the fact that we need data. The truth is that we do not collect sex-disaggregated data in our country and quite a few other countries in the region. So, it's difficult to say for sure that this [action] is going to be gender responsive because you have no idea of how this is going to affect the women or how this is going to affect the men. It's really difficult to tell that in absence of data. So, I would say, we would need data.

Gender-Responsive Climate Action Through Entrepreneurship

Sheila Oparaocha, ENERGIA International: ENERGIA International is an international network on gender and sustainable energy, working with 36 partners across 18 countries in Asia and Africa. We now have a global sustainable development goal to ensure affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all as well as to bring women out of poverty but bringing women out of poverty in a way that empowers them as well. This is our focus.

Over the last 20 years, we have been working with national governments and doing audits of national energy policies with the departments of energy, working with rural electrification agencies, working with utilities and working with national programs, using a variety of approaches. When we analyzed our progress, we found that we were still not really reaching the furthest, the most remote, the most vulnerable and marginalized, and therefore that we were not hitting our target. We weren't really seeing results.

So we decided a more targeted approach was needed. We adopted an entrepreneurship approach that puts women at the centre of energy service delivery system. So, scaling up women's enterprises in energy value chains, particularly energy value chains where they're dominant, making sure within those value chains that they occupy positions where there's value addition and they're making real money and that money is translating into improving livelihoods of themselves, their families and their communities. Also on the other side, working with enterprises that women are dominating, particularly in the agriculture sector, and providing energy inputs that are really going to make a difference to increase their productivity. Over the last three years, we have been working with over 4,000 women enterprises. Their businesses have grown by 20 per cent or more, and they are delivering energy products to 2.6 million people.

So what does this mean in reality? This means that we're going into areas where nobody was working to deliver energy—not the government, not the private sector—because it was too risky. We now have women who are providing energy services in these areas. This includes solar home systems so that you can read, some improved cook stoves, water pumps, and so on.

Why did it work? It worked because one of the biggest issues of scaling up energy in these areas is the adoption and sustainable use. That is all about behavioural change, it's all about having the conversation. Women had a lot of social networks and these were beyond the distribution chains of a lot of mainstream commercial partners. So, building on those women's networks, having that conversation between a buyer and a seller who are in the same boat, it changes the conversation as to why you should buy it and your decision to do that. That's one thing that worked.

We need to put people—men and women—at the centre of our climate actions and to be accountable for the commitments, the resources and the funding that are required to operationalize people's own agency into solutions.

Meaningful Participation and Capacity Building in Kenya

Winnie Lichuma, National Gender and Equality Commission, Kenya: When you have gender responsiveness, you are talking about both men and women. So, I think sometimes when we stress on women alone, we then lock out men who are gender-responsive. So, I think there's a role for everybody. There is a role that can be played by women when they get into policy decision making, and there's a role that can be played by women when they're the actual implementers on the ground. Participation must be meaningful. The participation must begin at the level where we're doing the gender analysis.

I want to emphasize that in implementation of the NAP process, we must look at both women and men, but that women are not homogenous, we're talking about all the categories of women, who must be given entry points. So, at the point when we're beginning the NAP process, we must identify the roles and responsibilities for both genders.

Sometimes, the gender-responsive aspects are as simple as even identifying what time you have your consultations. If you're doing your consultations very early in the morning, definitely the women are still taking their children to school and will not be at that meeting. So, how do you use homegrown solutions, methods that are known within the individual community setup to be able to bring out the issues?

I come from Kenya and participation is a key tenet that has been put in the constitution. For any policy intervention, any discussion, stakeholders must be involved. Interestingly enough, we have had the court making a decision that participation doesn't mean calling people and just putting them in a group and saying, you have participated. It must be meaningful. At every level of interaction, you must be able to show the balance.

I chair the Kenya National Gender and Equality Commission and I'll tell you that, at times, there's the belief that when you include more women, then you get gender-responsive policies or implementation frameworks. Not necessarily. A key piece is capacity building that is targeted to both men and women. With that blend and partnership, we are able to get gender responsiveness.

At the international level, it's very easy to have good negotiated documents but the implementation actually happens at the Party level. So, countries need to take the decisions back into the country policies, legal frameworks and administrative frameworks for implementation. The Gender Action Plan decision provides us with direction, but for the African continent, what does it mean to take the gender decision that asked us to build capacities at the local level for grassroots women, for the policy level, for increasing women even in decision making? It must be implemented at the country level.

Daniel Morchain, Oxfam: One of the big challenges that has been highlighted is the issue of participation and how to ensure that it is meaningful. Part of the work that we're trying to do as Oxfam is to address these power inequalities, dynamics and tensions. We bring together stakeholders of different levels of governance and engage them in dialogue.

We're trying to address the need to reconsider or rewrite the narrative, of what development, what climate change or climate adaptation really is about. There are some [forms of] knowledge that are very much excluded from being part of the discussion.

I think if we really try to do inclusion properly, then we could kind of bring to light things that remained under the carpet, that were not addressed. That not only opens the door for women to claim their rights, to be able to express themselves and therefore be in the position to start taking control, more direct control of their own destiny. But also, I want to bring another point, which is about men and the fact that these kinds of fixed stereotypes also have a burden on men sometimes. It comes from this emasculation or this role that you're supposed to play.

Rebecca Solnit, American author, says, "The reminder that everything changes has always felt liberatory to me. There have been and there will be other ways of being human."
A key element of transformation is really about the reorganization of power structures, the reorientation of social norms and values to really undo the obstacles. A development that is more equitable.

Gender-Responsive National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Processes

Angie Dazé, IISD: IISD is the secretariat for the NAP Global Network, and we've been looking at where countries are on integrating gender considerations into their National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes, based on a review of the NAP documents available on NAP Central as of September 2017.

First, the good news. Most countries are making an effort to address gender considerations in their NAP documents. This provides us with some really important entry points to move forward on integrating gender as NAP processes advance.
The second finding is related to the positioning of women in these documents. In the documents that we reviewed, all that mention women identify them as a vulnerable group. We noticed that women are often grouped with youth and elderly as a collective of "most vulnerable." They're also frequently identified as beneficiaries of adaptation actions. On the other hand, very few of the documents mention their role as the agents of change.

We feel that in order to promote adaptation processes that are genuinely gender-responsive, we need to focus more on the different strengths and capacities of both women and men and how these can be applied to the challenge of adapting to climate change. This is not to say that we don't need targeted actions to overcome some of the particular factors that make some women more vulnerable than other women and than their male counterparts. It's just that this is not the whole story. An effective response to climate change requires the combined and complementary skills and knowledge of both men and women to build the resilience of families, communities and societies.

Our third finding is that more consistent and deeper integration is needed. We really need to look at what are the underlying inequalities that exacerbate vulnerability to climate change. These are often driven by cultural and social norms that are very challenging to address—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. We need to better analyze and understand the dynamics between women and men and how to move towards collaboration for shared resilience. Finally, we need to recognize that there's considerable diversity among women and that men are critical actors in addressing gender inequalities.

Read the report "Towards Gender-Responsive National  Adaptation Plan (NAP) Processes:  Progress and Recommendations for the Way Forward":