As we continue to witness the increasing impacts of wildfires, flooding, storms, and other natural hazards on communities worldwide, we cannot discuss disasters without looking at climate change. And that conversation cannot happen without an honest and open look at the role of climate change on gender equity. 

Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) Vice President Regine A. Webster moderated the webinar titled “The Gendered Impact of Climate Change” featuring panelists Supriya Akerkar, Director of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP), Oxford Brookes University;Jenna Wallace, the Director of Global Movement Partnerships and Climate Justice for the Global Fund for Women; and Ellen Chigwanda, the Adolescent-Led Advocacy Advisor at CARE. 

Climate change affects women, girls, and transgender individuals in ways that men, boys, or cisgender people don’t experience due to gender inequalities such as unequal social status, lack of access to resources like land, credit, and trainings, and state-perpetuated patriarchal policies. To design effective recovery and resilience plans, social inequities need to be recognized, documented, and researched, because we can’t get answers to questions we don’t ask. 

Akerkar cited an example from her own research on the Chilean tsunami and earthquake of 2010. A transwoman said, “Before the disaster, it was already difficult for me to get a job as a transwoman. With the reduced employment opportunities in the aftermath of the disaster, I started struggling economically, reaching a point of not having [anything] to eat.” Disasters affect everyone, but not everyone has the same opportunities and resources to recover. 

When discussing climate change, people often cite scientific data as solutions to the problem, ignoring the social implications of policies. For example, women make up the majority of food producers and as disasters create an increasingly hostile climate, women need to spend extra time and energy to continue to provide food. Wallace framed the impact of climate change as climate justice. Climate justice seeks solutions that address root causes of inequality, it requires solutions to be more holistic, governed locally, and involving the leadership of those most affected.

Disasters wreak havoc on public goods and infrastructure. Chigwanda described how this specifically affects young girls: “As disasters destroy critical infrastructure, schools are forced to close, and schools lose access to clean water and menstruation-related absences increase.” These absences affect learning outcomes. She describes the inequalities as threads such as food scarcity, gendered societal roles, access to water, and access to education, woven together to create the complex problem faced today. Climate change multiplies the problems that already exist, creating a new generation of inequalities to be addressed. 

How can funders incorporate gender in climate change?

  1. Listen to women and gender minorities. Support humanitarian, development, and climate change adaptation initiatives that are led and informed by women and gender minorities. Embrace leadership from affected individuals.
  2. Recognize the intersectionality of the causes and effects of climate change. Plan and develop policies that improve gender equity.
  3. Support rights-based approaches to risk reduction and climate change adaptation by providing long-term funding engagements.