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Women can help tackle climate change and improve security - UN Environment Programme

Women walking around Lake Chad which has shrunk by 90% as a result of poor environmental management. (Credit: Keystone)

A new report, Gender, Climate & Security: Sustaining Inclusive Peace on the Frontlines of Climate Change, released Tuesday, reveals the web of links between gender, climate, and security issues. Women on the frontlines of climate action are in fact also playing a vital role in conflict prevention and advancing more sustainable, inclusive peace-building.

Why is this important? Due to their social and economic vulnerabilities, women and girls are at heightened risk from both climate-related shocks, such as drought, as well as conflict-related insecurity. Covid-19 is exacerbating both in many regions, further undermining development gains, escalating violence and disrupting fragile peace processes. The report features 11 promising programmes that it says could help spur transformative change - and women’s empowerment. UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka:

"Women are a powerful force to rebuild societies more securely, from providing food and shelter, to generating vital income and leading sustainable change.”

Authors: the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Women, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA)

Findings:

  • Women and girls already face disproportionate economic burdens due to their marginalization at home and work.

  • Gendered expectations can lead both men and women to resort to violence when traditional livelihoods fail.

  • Climate-driven socio-economic shifts can lead to a loss of livelihoods, migration, and further risks. UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen:

“Unequal access to land tenure, financial resources, and decision-making power can create economic stress for entire households in times of crisis, leaving women disproportionately exposed to climate-related security risks. The climate crisis stretches well beyond just climate, and tackling it effectively requires responses that address the links between gender, climate and security –we must ensure no one is left behind.”

One telling example, Pakistan. One of the most gender inequitable societies in the world, and also among the ten most vulnerable countries. Research in Pakistan reveals the links between climate-related weather extremes and gender. For instance:

  • During droughts, women may be forced to go further from home to fetch water, and as a result are more exposed to the risk of rape or other gender-based violence. .

  • Disasters can also trigger domestic violence. For instance, when homes and farms have been destroyed by flooding, frustrated men, unable to play their role as breadwinners, turn on their wives or daughters.

  • Armed militas and mafias may become more emboldened in areas suffering from natural emergencies. For instance, they may take on roles such as the distribution of water, from which they also earn revenue. These “masculinized” forces leave women further marginalized.

Solutions.

  • Gender-responsive action: interventions around natural resources, the environment and climate change provide significant opportunities for women’s leadership.

  • Sustainable natural resource programming can help mitigate sexual and gender-based violence in conflict zones. Says UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner:

“Gender inequality, climate vulnerability, and state fragility are strongly interlinked –we know, for example, that countries with higher values in one of these areas tend to score higher in the other two."

  • Gender considerations should also be fully respected in emerging policy and programming on climate-related security risks, ensuring the inclusion of women in decision-making processes.

  • More investments in gender equality and women’s empowerment is required in fragile states, especially in sectors related to natural resources.

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