- Gender and Climate Change: An Introduction
Statements such as the one by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, that “climate change can’t be solved without empowering women,”1 appear ever more frequently in the media and in climate change discourse. But what precisely does it mean to take a gendered perspective on climate change? This volume edited by Irene Dankelman, a long-time scholar of the intricacies of environmental and gender issues, aims to provide an analysis of this interface. The volume outlines gender aspects in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and examines these issues in both rural and urban societies, in practice and in policy. The volume’s strong emphasis on reporting local-level action makes it interesting not only for students and scholars of climate change and gender issues, but also for policy-makers at all levels wishing to improve the synergies between these two issues. Gender equality is still lagging behind in many of the most vulnerable regions of the world, resulting in a lack of equal participation in decision-making, and thus a lack of “gender mainstreaming,” in local, national and international climate policies.
This volume attempts to tie together two complex issues. It is a formidable task to outline why a gender-specific approach to climate change policies is required, and how such an approach can be achieved. Climate change is complex because of its global nature, its varied impacts, causes, and solutions (that require broad and fundamental changes to many aspects of human society), and the challenge of achieving political consensus on action. Achieving gender equality also requires action across all sectors of society. The authors show that the interlinkages between these two issues are intricate. Women are among the poorest of the poor, and are traditionally in charge of their family’s water and food supply, healthcare, and education of children. In times of climate crisis, women are often hit the hardest—in drought they walk farther to find water; in [End Page 128] famine they eat less to feed their family; and in times of natural disasters, children cannot attend school, leaving their mothers to care for and educate them. Women are also more likely to act as positive agents of change by taking actions that reduce their environmental impact, yet they have the least input in planning, policy-development and decision-making.
Addressing such a complex story ensures a wide scope for this volume. It is a mix of discussion on the links between gender and climate change in various contexts (theory, policy planning, cities, rural areas, poor areas) and with empirical case studies from various parts of the world. The case studies (most of which are at the local level) show the need for women to participate in decision-making, and outline both the particular vulnerabilities of women, and their potential as positive agents of change. One case of responding to the impacts of climate change stands out by showing that the presence of women is not enough. In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the U.S. Gulf Coast area, women became more actively involved in their communities. A higher proportion of women gained political power. Yet, their rise to power did not guarantee gender-sensitive decisions. Clearly, there are subtleties among gender approaches, gendered understanding, and the participation of women.
Although the volume provides an introductory overview to the issues of gender and climate change, the reader at times confronts more questions than answers. While the case studies provide concrete evidence of vulnerabilities, impacts and actions on the ground at the local level, there is little empirical research of actions, impacts and policies at the national or international levels. One enlightening chapter by Tracy Raczek, Eleanor Blomstrom and Cate Owren outlines the existing policies and laws at the international level dealing with human rights and climate change, within which the gender and climate change discussion can be situated. But little information is provided on what concretely can be achieved by linking gender issues to an already overburdened international negotiation agenda on climate...