Photo: UNDP


International Women’s Day (March 8) is celebrated every year to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of women around the globe
. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) recognizes that women’s full participation and decision-making in political, economic and public life is a pre-requisite of democracy and peace, and essential for achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Equal power sharing can also help better address current global challenges, from the COVID-19 crisis and democratic backsliding to climate change. The participation of women in all their diversity brings more inclusive perspectives to decision-making and can influence public policies and institutional practices to include a gender lens. Women’s full participation depends on their access to social protection, equal pay, sustainable infrastructure and public services as well as unpaid care and domestic work becoming a shared responsibility.

Women and Climate Change

While climate change and disasters are having a huge impact on human security, health and environment, it is affecting disproportionally women and girls, and even more so rural and indigenous women[1]. It is estimated that approximately a quarter of economically active women work in agriculture around the world, and destroyed and reduced crop yields because of the impact climate change will have a particularly devastating effect on the livelihoods of millions of them, as well as unequal effects on their families’ health and nutrition as commodity prices rise.

Despite women being more affected by climate change than men, they play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Women have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to come up with practical solutions. But they are still a largely untapped resource. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training and technology, and limited access to political decision-making often prevent them from playing a full role in building resilience to climate change and other environmental challenges.

The impacts of climate change and its associated security risks have important gender dimensions that shape how men and women of different backgrounds experience or contribute to insecurity. It is imperative to understand and respond to the way gender norms, expectations and power structures shape how men and women experience, contribute to and respond to climate-related security risks. This was acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General in the 2019 Annual Report on Women, Peace and Security, which states: “The global threat of climate change and environmental degradation is poised to exacerbate the already increasing number of complex emergencies, which disproportionately affect women and girls. There is therefore an urgent need for better analysis and concrete, immediate actions to address the linkages between climate change and conflict from a gender perspective”[2].

Key facts about women and climate

  • Women play a key role in natural resource management, but are still underrepresented in decision-making on environmental and climate risk issues at local, national and international levels. In 2015, only 12 percent of the national environmental-sector ministers were women and women represented less than one-third of the decision makers in six out of nine multilateral environmental agreement processes analyzed [3]. In international decision-making processes for responding to climate change and environmental degradation most negotiators are men[4].
  • The Gender Composition Report by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows that among the 11,306 national delegates to the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference (CoP24), only 38 percent were women and they represent only 27 percent of the heads of delegation[5]. Data for the UNFCCC COP in 2019 shows a similar pattern, where women represented 39 percent of the national delegations and 21 percent of the 196 heads of delegation[6].
  • Of 161 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submitted in 2016 by countries under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, only 40 percent (65 countries) made at least one reference to gender equality or women.[7]
  • Women hold a mere four percent of the World Energy Council (WEC) Chair Positions and 18 percent of WEC Secretary Positions[8].
  • At the local level, women’s inclusion at the leadership level has led to improved outcomes of climate related projects and policies. On the contrary, if policies or projects are implemented without women’s meaningful participation it can increase existing inequalities and decrease effectiveness[9].
Photo: UNDP


Women and climate security in the Pacific

In the Pacific, the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to climate change impacts is one of the highest worldwide. In the last years, single tropical cyclone events have caused enormous losses of GDP for some Pacific Island nations: that was the case, among others, of Tropical Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji.

Climate change in the Pacific region has the potential for a myriad of cascading fragility and instability risks. These are affecting men, women and youth differently, and vary across regions and the country contexts.

These scenarios include, among others, displacement and forced migration due to irreversible degradation of livelihoods; food sources and coastal erosion, increased social tensions linked to access to land and fisheries resources; a decrease in national revenues that could affect the ability of these states to mitigate the social impacts of climate change and challenges to the Blue Economy.

In this context, Pacific women are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change in several ways.

According to UN Women[1], women in the Pacific are disproportionally affected than men in terms of:

  • Disasters: women and girls are 14 times more likely to die or be injured than men due to a disaster. In fact, they are subject to a number of secondary impacts, including gender-based violence, loss or reduction of economic opportunities, and increased workloads. Moreover, in case of cyclones and other extreme events, resources are directed to expensive climate-related disaster relief, recovery, and reconstruction, therefore decreasing the resources spent for social and economic development, including the advancement of gender equality. The immediate aftermath of disasters is often an environment with heightened incidences of crime and gender-based violence where women and young people are most at risk. Successive disaster over time with ever shortening recovery periods in between present significant fragility risks and potential for short term tensions and violence, and longer-term deterioration of coping capacities, security and ultimately sustainable development.
  • Rising sea levels, erosion, and salinization: Rising sea levels are causing a decrease in cultivable land, as well as less fresh water. Pacific women are often responsible for water collection. A decrease in the availability of fresh water means women and girls will spend more time collecting water for their families. Women also have specific knowledge of water systems in their environment and can therefore find solutions to increase water availability.
  • Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Security: Coastal erosion and salinity intrusion are having a significant impact on agriculture and food security. In the Pacific, women and girls are affected the most when traditional crops begin to fail, as they are responsible for most of the agriculture production.
  • Health: Pacific women and men are socialized into gender-specific roles in their families and communities, which creates differences in how their health is affected by climate change. Due to these gendered roles, women often face increased vulnerability to disease and malnutrition and hold greater responsibility in caring for the sick.
Photo: UNDP


In an area which already experiences gender-related issues, climate change threatens to further exacerbate existing risk vulnerabilities, and inequalities faced by women in their communities. By understanding these vulnerabilities, why they exist and planning for them accordingly in climate change risk management programming is extremely important.

The UN’s Climate Security Project in the Pacific, funded by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with the Governments of Tuvalu, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Kiribati, will address those key gender issues.  With a 16 percent of total project budget allocated to activities in direct pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment, the project will provide with an effective and concrete response to the climate-security risks in the region. Such response, which will be developed in close partnership and through national systems, will be tailored to the unique political, economic, cultural, social, environmental and development circumstances of the region – including an inclusive gender-sensitive approach to assess, better understand and address critical climate security challenges.

By undertaking inclusive dialogue and outreach in the above-mentioned three countries, the initiative aims at strengthening the capacity of women to effectively engage in the climate security discourse. The project programme includes and prioritizes the needs of women and most vulnerable groups, in particular when addressing risk management strategies. Such strategies, which will contribute to tackle identified climate security priorities at the country and community level, will pay particular attention to the needs of women and girls with regards to climate security risks.

Furthermore, the Climate Security project will develop three country-specific Climate Security profiles according to an agreed gender-sensitive methodology. In those Climate Security profiles, the unique considerations and perspectives of women and girls, as well as innovative solutions deriving from their inputs, will be included and prioritized.

During the inception phase, the project is already integrating gender considerations, advocating and supporting equitable participation of men and women in the planning, identification and implementation of activities.

Find out more on #InternationalWomensDay here.

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[1] UNDP. 2019. The connection between gender equality and climate change.

[2] UNDP. 2020. Gender, Climate and Security

[3] IUCN and UN Women. 2015. Women’s Participation in Global Environmental Decision Making

[4] IUCN and UN Women. 2015. Women’s Participation in Global Environmental Decision Making

[5] Data come from UNFCCC https://unfccc.int/news/women-still-underrepresented-in-decision-making-on-climate-issues-under-the-un

[6] WEDO. Factsheet: UNFCCC Progress on Achieving Gender Balance (Dec 2019)

[7] UNDP, Climate Action: Planning for Gender-Responsive Nationally Determined Contributions, 2016: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/womens-empowerment/gender-equality-in-national-climate-action--planning-for-gender-.html

[8] IUCN and UN Women. 2015. Women’s Participation in Global Environmental Decision Making

[9] UNFCCC, What is the connection and why is Gender and Climate Change important: https://unfccc.int/gender

[1] UN Women. 2014. Why is climate change a gender issue and Climate change, gender and health in the Pacific

For more information:

Martin F. Ras, Project Manager - Climate Security Project, UNDP Pacific Office, Fiji | Email: martin.ras@undp.org

Giulio Fabris, Communication and Advocacy Specialist - Climate Security Project, UNDP Pacific Office, Fiji | Email: giulio.fabris@undp.org

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