Gender and Climate Change: What Affects One of Us, Affects All of Us


Gender and climate change is an issue that has been delayed for a long time to be addressed specifically under the heading of climate change, but it becomes serious within an inevitable reality. With the effects of climate change, the intersectional inequalities already created by the gender roles assigned in the society are increasing, making it difficult to create a permanent process in adapting to climate change and producing solutions. In this study, male-female and masculine-feminine roles are mentioned within the framework of climate change, international meetings on climate change and gender, and also results of some case studies are included. The article was written in English because the research topic was mainly included in documents originating from foreign sources and data groups.

Keywords: Climate change, women, intersecting inequalities, vulnerability, equality.


Climate change is a crisis that the world is striving to confront economically, industrially and politically on a global scale. Although characterization is often framed under technical and palpable factors in society, the world dynamic indicates that a whole social dynamic awaits to be properly included in discussions (Djoudi, 2016). Keeping the omission will result in another type of suppression which will cause progression of already existing inequalities much further (Salehi, 2015). 

Studies conducted on climate change mitigation and adaptation policies usually points out women either are staidly affected under the umbrella of vulnerability or placed in the climate change discussions as a virtuous creature (Gay-Antaki, 2020). However, such simplifications takes the power away from women and creates a medallion metaphor where one side is Average Third World Women and the other side is ‘Virtuous Women of North. Neither one provides a chair for the rights to have a word in the summits and (Arora-Jonsson, 2011). The constant framing of women as the vulnerable victims of environmental issues is almost a form of escapism. In a time when immediate action is vital, perpetuating vulnerability of women to only reify the climate change impacts is an unnecessary action to take (Gay-Antaki, 2020). 

It is also obvious that the women cannot be and should not be homogenized under solely belonging to ‘women’ category as a societal norm since there is an inevitable fact of inhabitation of women in their own intersectional oppression zones such as North vs. South (Sellers, 2016), Professionally Educated vs. None or Self Educated (Gay-Antaki, 2020). While issues such as colonial differences, race oppression and intersection of indigenous people within the frame of gender inequality are on the agenda, they cannot be held separate from the climate change issue as considering ‘vulnerability’ (Vinyeta, 2015).

1. In Between Vulnerability and Virtuousness

According to IPCC definition of climate change adaptation processes, adaptation is a movement to adjust natural and human systems as a response to possible climate stimuli whereas mitigation refers to reduction actions taken to reduce impacts of future climate change (Jerneck, 2018). However, omitting social mechanism changes which are inevitably interrelated with adaptation actions results in further inequalities. Such inequalities originates not only but majorly from poverty along with intersecting inequalities such as gender, race, class (Moosa, 2014). Intersecting inequalities are briefly defined as oppression factors in which a member of society is exposed to interaction of multiple inequality factors such as being a woman and coming from a third world country (Kaijsera, 2014). 

So as to comprehend depth of intersecting inequalities, a quote from Matsuda’s direct inquisition can be provided. 

When I see something that looks racist, I ask, ‘Where is the patriarchy in this?’

When I see something that looks sexist, I ask, ‘Where is the heterosexism in this?’

When I see something that looks homophobic, I ask, ‘Where are the class interests in this?’ (Matsuda, 1991).

In the scope of climate change, these inequalities reduce the resistance of societies despite it being perceived as solely affecting women because they are ‘vulnerable’. 

Hence, there is an urgent need to ask further questions such as what caused women to be vulnerable? Have they always been vulnerable? Are all women vulnerable in the same/different context? (Arora-Jonsson, 2011)

Women are frequently designated to the position of ‘vulnerable’ in the documents, including climate change contexts. Although the term is pursuant to some extent, in fact, aforementioned vulnerability is often substantiated from already ingrained social and economic norms that women face every day (Moosa, 2014). One of the crystal clear reasons is the increase in occurrence of natural disasters statistically. In agreement with this, socioeconomically formed gender-differentiated inequalities, leaves women in a vulnerable state. Frequently conducted research indicates women are exposed to inequalities while accessing social goods, finding shelter, communication and even nutrients during and after an extreme weather disaster (Abedin, 2013). 

As shown in Figure 1, the disaster impact and gender inequality creates the vulnerability intersectional zone (Erman, 2021). For instance, during the 1991 cyclone that took place in Bangladesh, most of the women were not informed about the cyclone, warning information was delivered to men and men did not contact their spouses. As many of these women were not allowed to leave their houses without their spouses, the fatality percentage of women has reached 90% in 14,000 fatalities (Abedin, 2013). 

Another vulnerable aspect is the feminization of poverty. Regarding the economic results of social norms, women have to bear the burden of various poverty types while performing daily tasks such as being exposed to the smoke of inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated houses. According to the statistical value, this type of indoor low air quality kills 1.45 million people every year (Dutta, 2011). Furthermore, they face strain injuries as they are collecting fuel wood, miscarriages because of the load; skin damage through burns and fuel exposure and physical violence including rapes while gathering fuel wood (Dutta, 2011). Since women are less able to participate in energy business and the ‘masculine’ side of the mitigation and adaptation processes, they are left alone while dealing with the poverty burden in practicality. Therefore, poverty is ‘feminized’ (MacGregor, 2010). 

In contrast to vulnerability and poverty linkage, in India during the floods between 2001 and 2003, poor lower caste women were less vulnerable due to accessibility for government grants. Thus, vulnerability and poverty must be regarded with mutually shaping behavior and in the relevant context rather than linking poverty and femininity synonymously (Arora-Jonsson, 2011). 

On the other side, there appears virtuousness of women and women’s role in climate change actions. With the masculinization of decision making and scientific research process and ‘feminization’ of vulnerability and obscure role under the name of virtuousness, women loses power in a constantly changing planet (Gay-Antakia, 2018). 

2. Man vs. Women and Feminine vs. Masculine in the Frame of Climate Change

In the scope of climate change, attributions of gender as a discourse is anticipated strongly. Although it is perceived as a gender neutral issue, the dimensions that have been built around climate change topics have a high tendency to involve gender. As in other gender related topics, gender mainstreaming is utilized while producing frameworks for climate change and gender. While it is an effective strategy for a lot of cases, a transformative and ineradicable change has scarcely existed (Acosta, 2019).

In the scope of climate change the first action is the mitigation ‘masculine’ action and the second step is adaptation ‘feminine’ action (Terry, 2009). Rather than explaining gender mechanisms as a social dynamic between people and society with identities such as masculine and feminine, most of the research is assuming gender and women are synonymous. Climate change and gender topics are also familiar with falling into this trap. The significance of aforementioned topic is pretty high since as gender being equal to women, women are completely isolated from men and understating the inequality formed between two creatures in a societal ambiance exceedingly being reduced. Norms start to fill and become embedded in the study uncontrollably as concealing diverse characteristics among women (MacGregor, 2010). 

Within the frame of masculinity and femininity, two terms moving opposite directions in discourses, perfectly aligns with the green duty and neo-Malthusian population control (Safeopedia, 2017) & (MacGregor, 2010) under the umbrella of hegemonic gender roles and stereotypes. Such as science and security forces are being associated with masculinity and individual practice and reproduction are being associated with femininity. Such as it is, climate change actions have shifted step by step towards policy-making and institution building and become within rather than outside. Rather than women activists, men have drifted into politics, convention and negotiations; through this, climate change has become masculinized (MacGregor, 2010). 

3. Gender Inequality and International Initiatives

Association between genders in the frame of climate change topics is now being acknowledged increasingly in international research, yet seldom do climate change policies address gendered impacts or adjust policies to create solutions. In spite of the fact that women are in vulnerable situations, no change has been apparent in policy making, frameworks and discursive policies. These contexts are rarely gender sensitive (Vinyeta, 2015). In United Nations gender definitions used in COP, gender sensitive means attempting to redress existing gender inequalities. No gender related terms were found referring gender sensitive term in Paris Agreement or in text (Gay-Antaki, 2020). 

With an inadequate focus on gender related issues, as a response, organizations have started to promote research and information sharing regarding this topic. One of the organizations is GenderCC- Women for Climate Justice. GenderCC is an international establishment which embraces the duty of integrating gender justice and climate change in a climate change context. Such organizations have encouraged and pushed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to do much research and report this research about the aforementioned topic. In the light of these, IPCC’S fourth assessment report has recognized the gender roles and their vulnerability and exposure risks in the context of climate change (Vinyeta, 2015). 

United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) in 2009, published a report which addresses the significance of gender and climate change relation in the frame of reproductive health. In 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) published the need of a framework which will shape standard level health risk assessments along with climate change policies both as advocates of women and men rights (Kirsten Vinyeta, 2015). 

Aguilar the Tebtebba Foundation allocated in the Philippines, has examined the possible danger caused by climate change on indigenous women. Foundation also has taken account of the knowledge about traditional forest management systems (Indigenous women, climate change and forests. Bagio City, Philippines: Tebtebba Foundations, 2013). 

Nevertheless, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mentioned gender and environment topics in 2013 for the first time and some researchers usually state if there have been no voices raised, then this topic would have stayed under the carpet. 

Current delegates and negotiators who are women are markedly low in comparison to men. In COPs, usually 20-50 women attend those brief meetings, however the Google mail lists include 800 email addresses. If the meeting targets to create a ‘friendly’ environment and not to be labeled, the usual act is to summon an eco-feminist who is non-threatening and well known. Moreover, a woman who was summoned to one of the meetings (COP in Lima) has been offered to read an intervention speech that is already written. This young woman accepted the offer even though she was not able to participate in the making of the speech. As Peruvian woman, she was used to ‘depict’ a brown woman image in the meeting, rather than allow her to state her point of view. 

In addition to this, she or the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) she was a member of did not have a chance to discuss what was written in the speech to read for her. The provided narrative was the typical ‘third world woman’ (Mohanty, 1988). 

Such as South Asian women being constantly vulnerable and recursively being pointed out (Sultana, 2013) in addition to the dominant theme that covers South Asian women standing chest-high in rising flood waters is a problematic and a one dimensional depiction which leads to the exclusion of direct climate victims. These women are rarely able to enter the discussions about climate change. Description of a Southern woman being unable to cope with the change without any aid of UN organizations and needs a Northern voice to be heard is a turbulent discussion (MacGregor, 2010). 

Figure 2: South Asian from stands in water (Godin, 2018).

These women are often overlooked and their relevant fund of knowledge is not acknowledged enough. According to the Ghana experience of Glazebrook, agriculture is also feminized and their labor has become invisible (Glazebrook, 2020). 

Local women who have remarkable amount of accumulated knowledge about the territory and the climate in this specific area are usually excluded from important decision making mechanisms, or worse they are excluded by women who have better educational level and a background than them- which shapes the gap between North versus South aspect of climate change adaptation processes (Glazebrook, 2020). 

In addition to this, the education level difference between UN trained negotiators and other representatives. In COP conventions, some representatives from European countries mentioned that “some can enter but not talk”. According to the Miriam Gay-Antiam’s interview, highly skilled and qualifies UN negotiators are able to represent their point of view. This hyper-expertise creates a barrier for other representatives from not only less qualified and experienced countries but also for indigenous and vulnerable people’s perspectives.

Rather than exploiting the vulnerable community of global climate change to form an image and perpetuating their other oppression factors over the substantially apparent damage they take gradually, the aim must be giving a chair to these people and understanding their needs as well as maximizing their contribution (Gay-Antaki, 2020). 

4. Case Study from South Africa

Gender is a dynamic element as previously pointed out. Thus, the biological gender or attained gender role cannot predetermine gender role of a person in society since it will change regarding culture, political status, and ethnicity (Babugura, 2010). 

Table 1: Gender Roles and Responsibilities (Babugura, 2010).

Thelaphi (UMzinyathi Municipality)Dube and Mkhwanazi


(UMzinyathi Municipality) 

Provide for family financiallyFood preparationProvide for family financiallyFood preparation
Protect family and the community (safety)Collect firewood for cookingProtect family and the community (safety)Collect firewood for cooking
Subsistence farmingSubsistence farming Subsistence farmingSubsistence farming 
Livestock rearingFood SecurityLivestock rearingFood Storage
Help collect firewoodHarvestingHelp collect firewoodHarvesting
 Food StorageAgricultureWater Supply
 Ensure day to day survival of their familiesWater supply (young men)Commercial farming (mainly food crops)
 Cleaning the houseCommercial farming (sugar cane, mainly forestry)Food security
 Collect thatching grass Collect grass for craft work
 Childbearing /upbringing Childbearing /upbringing
 Caring for the sick elderly Caring for the sick elderly
   Caring for children

Regarding Table 1, some households are stated that the relationship can differ depending on the dynamic of the household. Participants who attended this survey later also stated that single mothers have to bear the responsibility of the father figure as single fathers have to bear the responsibilities of the mother figure. However, since women are taking care of the majority of the daily work which has a direct link to climate change, they feel the pressure closely. 

To mention gender roles and how it is perceived, it has been pointed out by the villagers that men who grew up by helping their household were willingly keep helping and maintaining house chores alongside with their mother. Similar to this, women who grew up with helping their household for the livestock works or farming were able to take care of necessary daily tasks in this field. This demonstrates that when a shift in attributed gender roles occurs in society, also the normative reaction that has been given to specific gender roles alters. A young boy from Mkhwanazi states that he grew up with his single mother and therefore he was collecting water with his mother beginning from early ages of his life. 

He also mentions that he is helping her sister with cleaning and supports the idea of a workload equality for women and men by saying “there is no such thing as work for girls and boys or women and men”

On the other hand, some men from Thelapi admit that they are helping the household workload because they are unemployed due to the climate change impacts or not to be labeled as ‘lazy’ by their spouses. Although there is no existence of a limitation on utilization of natural resources it is observed that women are usually in charge of natural sources whereas men search for employment opportunities and materialistic benefits such as owning a land. For owning a land, women have to claim that land as a group and in a man dominated household, women have no right to stake out a claim for the land. In today’s world, the ownership rules are changing and fathers are providing ownership of the lands equally to their children. 

In the case of adapting to climate change, migration seems to be getting up in ranking however women states that they usually felt like it would be better for men to migrate. Some also mention that with migration, sexual diseases such as HIV/AIDS are transmitted into households since men who migrate usually have had sexual relationships with other women and returned home with disease. Additionally, women realized the mobility of men resulted in spending money on alcohol and entertainment. Hence, they put themselves in the protector of household position. They often reject having sexual relationships with their husbands due to HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, women save their own source of money and most of them hide the economic source they have from their husbands. Both of the cases lead to break up of families in time so women started to protest labor rights for women due to inadequacy of equal work rights to maintain a household standard without a man. 

Though the employment issue is a markedly significant one, some other men are choosing commercial farming over migration to compensate for unemployment while women are stating they are willing to use every resource they can (Babugura, 2010). 

5. Women and Scientific/ Political Side of Climate Change Discussions

Since climate change was started in natural sciences the link between social science aspects and natural science was scarce (Anna Kaijsera, 2014) which caused the mentioned distinction between masculine and feminine in the discussions. However, men surpass women in scientific and participating decision making activities which have responsibility to address climate issues. IPCC scientist division is majorly constituted of male scientists (only 16% are women) and among 146 delegations attending Climate Summit in New York in 2009, seven were managed by women. 

The inequalities between Annex I and Annex II countries were successfully handled in 2010 however all 19 members were men. The most famous spokeswoman are men and women who are a minority in all necessary fields to have a place in policy making processes such as economics, science and engineering. Climate change is usually perceived as a techno-scientific issue requiring technical and statistical solution, since gender was shown as irrelevant. Furthermore, an article published on New Scientist mentioning ‘Men to Blame for Global Warming’ in 2007 (Scientist, 2007) to make fun of a report about gender differentiated impacts of climate change by the Swedish Ministry of Environment simply proves how this topic is embarked to be portrayed on a global scale. 

Only the issues that traditionally have been handled by women such as agricultural knowledge are allowed whereas from scientific framings and political aspects women are excluded. With the rising climate immigrants from South to North and reducing gas emissions with mitigation technologies; a ‘hegemonic’ masculinity track have bended the actions taken against climate change and shaped it into male-dominant zone (MacGregor, 2010)

Women are accepted to be included by stating the condition of ‘gender balance’ term rather than ‘gender equality’ which results in the statistical simplification of each qualitative data and experience /education of a person. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have stood against the ‘gender equality’ term in the context of climate change and slowed down the convention flow which fastened the advocating action of other countries towards ‘gender balance’ (Gay-Antaki, 2020). 


Climate change is one of the catalyzing factors of worsening the barriers between women and their contribution to society. Women already have the weight of economic depression and environmental degradation on their shoulders and climate change has done nothing less than worsen this precarious state. Gender and climate change should be examined within the framework of intersectional inequalities, taking into account the oppression zones that have already occurred and will increase greatly if no action is taken. By shifting gender roles and social norms, women should be given the right to be a member of climate science and political society, whose opinion is asked during the decision-making stage and who has the right to speak, not just from the point of view of vulnerability or virtue. Right to speak will provide a first-person perspective towards these crucial topics rather than constantly using narrative voice to avoid centering women in the speech. 

Negotiations have been held and have still not been able to take the necessary steps towards a permanent solution and cannot produce policies that can respond to the social inequalities that come with climate change. The rights given to women within this framework seem to be aimed at statistically equalizing numbers in a balance, and ignoring the valuable and quality knowledge that local and educated women will share tends to further impasse the process. Constantly holding climate negotiations within the existence of oppression forms will only make final decisions to go back to square one. 

In agreement with all, as stated in the Bali Convention (Sultana, 2013), climate justice cannot be achieved without gender equality and a sustainable development circle will always stay incomplete without the efficient contribution of women. 

Gökçe Nur AYAZ

Gender Studies Staj Programı


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