Why Gender Matters for Climate Change

Our Common Future

By:  Dr. Virginie Le Masson

Virginie Le Masson will be presenting at CFCC15 session Gender and climate change: From vulnerability to mainstreaming in adaptation and mitigation on Day 3.

What does gender have to do with climate change? It’s a question I often hear when engaging with practitioners and policy-makers. I am a researcher who advocates for attention to gender to be integrated in efforts to address climate change -- in climate change mitigation, in strategies to adapt to climate impacts, and in negotiations towards a global climate change agreement.

To answer that question, I tend to avoid using the mainstream argument that women are more vulnerable to climate change than men.  By now, many studies have documented that women are part of households and relationships from which they cannot necessarily be separated (Dankelman, 2010). Whatever impacts women will also impact those around them, albeit in different ways. This is why we must work on gender relations rather than on women only (Tacoli et al., 2014).

Instead, I show that men and women across societies have different roles and perspectives, which make their relation with their environment very different. While conducting research in the Himalayan province of Ladakh (India), I realised for instance that when asking local villagers questions around water access, I received very different answers from women than those that my male research colleague received from men he interviewed. People in Ladakh rely on glacier and snow melted water for daily consumption and irrigation. But changes in temperatures, combined with increased demand for limited water resources, make water availability fluctuate dramatically.

While men did not raise any concerns to access water, almost all women I interviewed said that water access was one of their main daily challenges. This is because women are responsible for fetching water and for irrigating fields and therefore they have a first-hand knowledge of the availability of water and how climate change is impacting this resource.