• By,
      Sunidhi Singh – Student, Kautilya

Over the decade, climate change has become the center of global concern and dialogue. Accordingly, global media has continued to project extensive coverage of the issue which is manifesting in the form of rising temperature, increasing droughts, floods, cyclones, ice melting, rising sea level, changing patterns of rainfall and snowfall, etc. However, there is one significant aspect of the issue that did not make it to primetime — “The climate crisis is not gender neutral.”

Focusing on the climate crisis through the lens of intersectional feminism, one can understand the manner in which different levels of inequality often function concurrently and worsen each other. It makes it apparent that climate change threatens women, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, migrants, and those residing in tribal belts, conflict zones, and disaster-prone regions. Gender scholars have also asserted that cognizance to gender dimensions will be crucial for the growth and evolution of effective adaptation and mitigation policies as the climate crisis advances. Yet, limited targeted actions have been executed by nations to create more just and equitable conditions. With COVID-19 and other health hazards further deepening the effects of gender and environmental inequalities, the world must start viewing climatic issues through the lens of gender.

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) is scheduled for November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, whose declaration will set the pretext for further climate action. Events like this help underline issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment at the highest level. It is an opportunity to mobilize member states and private entities to deliberate on the inclusion front and address broader issues of discrimination, socio-cultural barriers, and inequalities that enhance vulnerability. A report by UN Women concluded that to accelerate rights-based transformative climate measures and national development, the ESG policy frameworks should determine human rights and gender equality as core principles. It should further endorse more significant roles and commitments of women in decision-making. It also calls for cooperation between the state and stakeholders on sectoral policies concerning climate change, human rights, and equality.

Hence, to make shared progress, policymakers of the 21st century must work together to foreground the linkages of access to fundamental rights, gender equality, and climate change at national and international levels. India has set up its target of 2030 to stop greenhouse gas emissions. However, India is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to the entrenched systemic social inequalities and frequent environmental blows. Culturally, women in several rural and urban areas are restricted within the liminal spaces of their households even now. Their primary responsibility remains to manage the resources of the home. A significant part of these resources is naturally procured from the forests or through farming. Climate change has an immediate connection to the depletion of natural resources, as one triggers another. Adding to that, a significant section of rural and semi-urban regions of India do not have access to regular electricity supply, leading women to use alternative sources pf energy such as biomass and coal for household chores. Exposure to these inefficient energy sources directly endanger women’s health and longevity.

Moreover, due to the patriarchal nature of society, women also suffer physiologically and psychologically, which attains severity with climate change. Several studies have found that women vary from men physiologically and hence their bodies react differently to higher temperatures, which enhances their biological vulnerability. Therefore, women are disproportionately affected by climate change. As aspiring change-makers, we must prioritize the need of the hour and understand this critical intersection. We must take effective steps as we are at a crossroads where our next decisions on climate and equality will strongly alter our nation’s as well as the planet’s fortune.

According to me, the first step is to invite women as co-designers and co-implementers to participate in climate governance, innovation, technology, and funding. Previous research work by the UN establishes that countries with more women in parliament and women managing local natural resources usually embrace more stringent national climate change approaches. As a result, it leads to lowered emissions, more equitable and inclusive local resource administration, and promising local preservation methods. Ultimately, we must ensure that equal political, sociological, and economic spaces are created for all sections of society, especially for women. For that, the government needs to empower policymakers, grassroots civil society organizations, and youth that see climate change from a gender-neutral rights-based lens. This is where the effort is required in terms of policy engagement.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.