Why Gender Matters for Effective Adaptation to Climate Change

By Angie Dazé

The impacts of climate change are already affecting people’s lives in subtle and devastating ways.

Adaptation to climate change fosters resilient communities, economies, and ecosystems by considering climate risks in decision making at all levels. Differing backgrounds, genders, and socio-economic realities play a key role in how people experience climate impacts. For National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes to be effective, the following aspects must be taken into account.

How the impacts of climate change are felt by people of different genders

Climate change impacts people differently based on their roles and responsibilities, which are often defined by gender. For example, in the agriculture sector in many countries, men are typically responsible for commercial crops whereas women may be responsible for subsistence crops that feed the family. Because climate shocks affect each differently, their adaptation needs are different. For example, during a drought, men need to adapt to a loss of income, while women will be managing increased household food insecurity.  Further, in many contexts, women and non-binary individuals face barriers in accessing resources and opportunities. This can result in fewer resources being available to them, making it more challenging to manage risks and respond to crises.

How gender intersects with other factors that drive discrimination 

An intersectional approach to climate adaptation recognizes that there are factors beyond gender that can result in discrimination and exclusion. By only looking at gender, there is a risk that women, men, and nonbinary people are treated as homogeneous groups when, in reality, their risks and adaptation needs are not the same. For example, a wealthy woman living in the city has a different experience with climate change than a poor woman living in a rural area. An older man with a mobility-related disability does not experience climate change impacts the same way as his young, able-bodied neighbour.  

Intersectional factors, such as age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, need to be accounted for in NAPs because they impact the ways in which people are vulnerable to climate change and, subsequently, their adaptation needs. By digging in to the particular barriers that people face and looking at how these exacerbate their vulnerability to climate change, NAPs can reduce climate risks for the most vulnerable people while also tackling systemic inequalities. 

How gender biases and barriers are addressed within institutions

Taking a critical look at how norms and traditional beliefs related to gender play out in institutions is an essential foundation for a gender-responsive approach. By acknowledging and confronting gender-related biases and barriers within their own institutions, decision-makers can take an important step toward creating the conditions for gender equality and social inclusion in the policies, programs, and services that they deliver. 

A focus on alignment and implementation

Often, the gaps that exist are not in the policies themselves but in how these policies are interpreted and implemented. A focus on alignment with existing gender policies and international commitments, including Sustainable Development Goal 5 and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, can support the integration of gender considerations in NAP processes. Reviewing the implementation of policies to understand how effective they were in advancing gender equality can help to ensure that learning is applied and mistakes are not repeated. 

A variety of actors need to be included in climate change adaptation: different sectors are involved at different levels of planning, all with different budgets and decision-making processes. Applying a gender lens to this process adds another layer of complexity to the NAP process. Yet, development programs and projects that don’t take gender into account have been found to be less effective and less sustainable. The same applies to climate action.

The guiding principles for NAPs demand that the process be gender-responsive and consider vulnerable communities and groups. If a country is not reaching the most vulnerable people with its adaptation investments, then the ambitions and objectives of NAPs are not being met.