"A changing climate means there is a shrinking window of opportunity to close the gender gap" – Yannick Glemarec

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec at the Empowering Women in Climate Action event on 29 September.

Date: Tuesday, September 29, 2015

[As delivered]

There is a growing recognition of the disproportionate impact that climate change will have on women on the one hand, as well as of the tremendous social, economic, and climate resilient benefits that gender equality and women’s empowerment can bring, on the other. This is reflected in the progress made in terms of mainstreaming gender into climate negotiations over the past few years.

Today, the key challenge is to systematically incorporate gender equality and women’s empowerment into our operational responses to climate change at the local, national, and international levels. This will require a paradigm shift that puts women at the centre of our adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk management efforts.

In agriculture, climate change will exacerbate the existing barriers faced by women farmers. Women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce and play a critical role in supporting household and community food security. However, due to discriminatory policy frameworks or harmful social norms, women farmers have less access than men to secured land tenure, agricultural inputs, financing, water and energy, appropriate infrastructure, technologies, and extension services. Closing the gender gap in access to land and other productive assets could increase agricultural outputs by up to 20 percent in Africa. This represents a huge opportunity for women’s empowerment, economic development and societal resilience to shocks, including climate change.

At the same time, a changing climate means that there is a shrinking window of opportunity to close the gender gap in agriculture and seize this opportunity. For instance, climate change will require greater upfront capital for investments in climate resilient infrastructure, assets, and the adoption of new farming practices. This aggravates existing barriers, limiting women farmers’ access to long-term affordable finance and agricultural extension services. Women farmers are at risk of being trapped in a downward spiral in the absence of concerted efforts to close the gender gap in access to productive resources for climate resilient agriculture.

Similarly, based on current trends, it will take until 2080 to achieve universal access to electricity, and the mid-22nd century for access to non-polluting energy for cooking. Highly centralized energy systems often bypass the poor in low-income countries, especially in rural areas and particularly women. A woman living in a village in Northern Nigeria spends around 60 to 80 times more for her energy than a resident of New York [1]. As decentralized sustainable energy technologies increasingly become the most cost-effective energy options for the poor, they present huge opportunities for empowering women in terms of income-generating activities, reduction of unpaid care work, and access to information, education, and health services.

In most developing countries women are the primary household energy managers and can also be powerful agents of change in the transition to sustainable energy. Women entrepreneurs have enormous potential to create distribution and service networks in rural areas, helping to lower the cost of customer acquisition and increasing access to sustainable energy.

However, this potential to accelerate the energy transition is vastly under-utilized. Women are under-represented in the sustainable energy sector. Once again, inappropriate regulatory frameworks, limited access local to technical skills and long-term affordable finance translate into higher investment risks for women than for men and hamper women’s empowerment and universal clean energy access efforts.

The same gender gap is found in disaster risk management. In the past 10 years, 87 per cent of disasters have been climate related and this number is expected to grow. The same structural barriers that limit women’s roles in climate resilient agriculture and universal clean energy access make women more vulnerable in disaster and post-disasters situations. For example, more than 70 per cent of the fatalities from the 2004 Asian tsunami were women. Similarly, when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008, the death rate of those aged 18 to 60 for women was double that of men. In affected regions, women were not traditionally taught how to swim and climb trees.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 calls for a paradigm shift through dedicated action to tackle underlying disaster risk drivers. It provides a unique opportunity for alleviating the gender inequality of risks by (i) assessing the gender dimensions of disaster risks in a changing climate; (ii) engendering all disaster risk management policies and practices; (iii) closing the financing gap for gender responsive disaster risk management; and (iv) strengthening women capacity to prevent, prepare for, and recover from natural hazards in a changing climate.

Addressing gender gaps systematically in our response to climate change today is one of the most effective mechanisms to build the climate resilience of families, communities and nations tomorrow. Applying a gender lens to climate change reveals solutions to seemingly intractable problems. 

UN Women, with our partners, is committed to championing these new solutions by putting women at the center of adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk management efforts. We believe that such a paradigm shift will create virtuous cycles that can simultaneously achieve multiple sustainable development goals, improving the lives and resilience of women and men everywhere, and making a climate compatible economy a reality.

Notes

[1] Kofi Annan ‘Africa Power’ (2015)