Gender & Climate: How hot does it have to get for change?

March 8, 2021

The 2016 floods that hit the country's northwestern region displaced many families from their homes for months, putting additional stress on women trying to take care of their families with minimal resources.

Though the effects of climate change are felt by everyone, it is increasingly clear that climate change is worsening preexisting inequalities as its consequences disproportionately fall on vulnerable categories, including women. For International Women’s Day 2021, we take a deeper look at the intersection of gender and climate change.

As highlighted by North Macedonia’s Gender and Climate Change Action Plan, the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events like floods, droughts and landslides, have the most negative impact on poor communities and those who closely depend on surrounding natural resources for their livelihoods. In a case of compounding inequalities, with women holding more low-paying jobs and making up the majority of unpaid family workers, they also end up being one of the most vulnerable populations to the effects of climate change. Socioeconomic inequality and other cultural factors are often directly related with the ability to cope with or mitigate the negative effects of climate change, which is why climate change has a greater negative impact on women.

According to the 2020 Human Development Report, social inequalities such as the unequal access to resources, increase planetary pressures leading to greater risks in terms of environmental challenges. The shocks which result from these risks cascades into further negative social impact, particularly affecting the most vulnerable.

Why women should be more involved in climate policy and action

Climate policies have largely been gender-neutral, but gender-disaggregated data on its socioeconomic impact increasingly supports the case for factoring in gender as a key consideration. One of the reasons is that the economic activities of many women relate to sectors directly affected by climate change or that can contribute to the mitigation of climate change, such as agriculture, waste selection, household energy efficiency and heating choices, and transport (women choose to commute by walking, cycling and using public transport more often than men). Climate change increases the vulnerability of women since they are already struggling with additional underlying inequalities in comparison to men. Women are also more involved in homeschooling which plays a substantial role in helping young people adopt healthy and environmentally responsible habits – a very important strategy for climate change mitigation. In general, women tend to invest more energy than men into community wellbeing as opposed to individual wellbeing.

By taking into account women's knowledge, experience and needs, we can significantly increase the effectiveness of national climate policies and the efficiency of their implementation. For example, if women are more often the agents of change in their own households, policies seeking to subsidize household energy efficiency and renewable energy production should increasingly target women, which currently only account for one quarter of beneficiaries from such subsidies in North Macedonia. As development initiatives have demonstrated time and time again, when women benefit, the whole community benefits. 

Contrary to the stereotype that physical labor is primarily the domain of men, women volounteered in large numbers to help clear the damage caused by the 2016 floods, which were some of the worst recorder in the country.

UNDP’s work on gender and climate in North Macedonia

UNDP is working on cross-sector fertilization regarding both of these issues, meaning that we help the decision-makers on gender equality issues to obtain more knowledge regarding climate change, while also offering guidance on gender equality to environmentalists. We created a map outlining all the steps we have taken to better understand the relationship between climate change and gender, and to brings this issue to the attention of all of the relevant stakeholders, such as through a series of trainings for public servant on the national and local level.

We also joined forces with our colleagues from Georgia to capture the personal experiences and issues of Macedonian citizens relevant to climate change, and used this vast pool of non-traditional data points to shape new policy documents on gender and climate change.

More broadly, we support municipalities in introducing gender-responsive budgeting, which lays the foundation for increasing the gender-responsiveness of all policies, including those on climate mitigation.

Micro narratives – a lens into the everyday stories of women and men

In December 2020, UNDP North Macedonia conducted a study on Gender and Climate Change that reflected major trends based on a collection of micro narratives and individual experiences. As a collaborative instrument, the cycle of the narrative research rests on collective intelligence and the participation of all stakeholders in all stages of the research process – from the development of the questions to the analysis of the results and the formulation of the policy recommendations. In collaboration with the UNDP Georgia Innovation Team, we conducted a micro narratives perception study to complement top-down interventions and collect data on the experiences of and issues facing ordinary people who have dealt with the effects of climate change first-hand.

“I was at home when the rain started pouring. Because I was close to the river, I noticed that the water level was rising and that the streets were starting to flood with water full of sand and sludge. It quickly got into the yards of all the houses down the street.” – woman from Tetovo, 50-64 years of age.

“Let me tell you about the ‘disappearance’ of the water that hasn’t happened to this degree in ages. Multiple families relied on the river for drinking and for household needs. Now that the river is drying out, people are forced to look for water elsewhere. The surrounding vegetation and wildlife are also in decline. It used to be a rich ecosystem with indigenous plant varieties, such as a rare sort of moss, but now it’s all drying out and the animals are leaving because there’s no longer enough food and water.” – woman from Gazi Baba, 50-64 years of age.

These are just a couple of the stories we collected from people who have had to deal with the consequences of climate change fist hand. Though individually anecdotal, together they make up a dataset that can help policymakers incorporate adequate responses to the identified needs into the climate policy agenda. Here are some of the most important findings, based on data collected from 1,223 respondents from across the country:

  • Most climate change-related situations relate to disaster management.
  • Half of climate change-related situations in the country are caused by rainfall/flooding.
  • The most common response to a climate change-related situation is to plan to do something, act and think about the possible impacts.
  •  The perception on decision-making and budget management varies between men and women. Women report higher rates of joint decision-making than men (31% vs 23%), while men report higher rate of making decision themselves, compared to women (55% vs 36%). Women report higher rates of joint management than men (32% vs 23%), while men report higher rates of managing budgets themselves, compared to women (47% vs 29%). The ‘other’ category is very prominent and was reported by 29% of men and 26% of women.
  • More women report taking actions to reduce greenhouse emissions than men, though both groups reported using similar strategies to reduce greenhouse emissions. Most of the respondents said that no intentional actions were taken by them. When actions were taken, the most common ones reported were home insulation and the use of more energy efficient home appliances.

Take a look at the differences and similarities between climate actions done by women and by men (in %). Women tend to reduce energy consumption in their homes, reduce waste or eat less meat, while the only bar where man have higher percentages is the one where no climate action is taken.

Climate change urges us to be proactive because reactivity does not work

We can agree that installing more air conditioners contributes to increasing air temperature and that buying bottled water in plastic containers increases waste, which in turn reduces water supply. However, deciding to act after the fact, rather than taking a proactive approach, often leaves us with limited options for lessening the consequences of climate change.

Therefore, whatever we do, we must take a step back and mitigate climate change in a smart and inclusive way, leaving no one behind. As vulnerable categories are especially affected by the repercussions of climate change, they must be included as important stakeholders in the decision making processes on how to address it. Likewise, the relationship between gender and climate change should not be overlooked. We must strive to increase the involvement of women and girls in the fight against climate change, not only because they often bear the brunt of its consequences but also because they are already acting as powerful agents of change on climate change mitigation. An inclusive decision-making process is the only just way forward!