Gender-Transformative Climate Change Adaptation: Advancing Social Equity


Resurrección, Bernadette P., Beth A. Bee, Irene Dankelman, Clara Mi Young Park, Mousumi Haldar, and Catherine P. McMullen. 2019. "Gender-Transformative Climate Change Adaptation: Advancing Social Equity." Background paper to the 2019 report of the Global Commission on Adaptation, Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.

Authors: Bernadette P. Resurrección, Beth A. Bee, Irene Dankelman, Clara Mi Young Park, Mousumi Haldar, Catherine P. McMullen


Power and gender inequalities can constrain and undermine climate change adaptation. Those who are vulnerable and marginalized, with limited access to resources and assets, are already facing formidable barriers in adapting to climate change. Ignoring this challenge is maladaptive, as it adds to the vulnerabilities of those already burdened disproportionately and encourages new types of exclusions. Meeting the challenge requires that we transform our societies into fairer and more just organizations. Unfettering the agency of individuals and collective groups, through policies and actions that promote gender-transformative adaptation, can help achieve this change.

In this background paper, we are seeking ways to use a gender-transformative lens to account for the social nature of major adaptation efforts in key systems and to understand the political, economic, social, and cultural practices and norms that shape, but may also distort, people’s adaptation efforts. Specifically, the paper aims to:
• Explore how gender is an important way to understand inequalities in emerging adaptation efforts and programs in key systems; and
• Recommend actions, based on the report findings about specific systems and institutions engaged in climate change adaptation, that enable gender-transformative adaptation.

The paper is organized according to systems with planned and operational adaptation measures. The systems include the natural environment; food security, rural livelihoods and agriculture; sustainable cities; infrastructure; industry and supply chains; and finance. The paper also highlights gender-transformative adaptation initiatives. This is followed by a stocktaking of institutional enablers of change that can be utilized and tapped to strengthen efforts at gender-transformative climate change adaptation. The paper ends with a summary of main findings and their respective recommendations.

The team of authors conducted a review of the relevant peer-reviewed research and gray literature on gender and climate change adaptation emerging over the last decade and covering gender and adaptation in the Global North and South. Our review leans more toward adaptation contexts in the Global South due in large part to availability of literature. The paper has been reviewed in iterative stages by external reviewers and was discussed in a one-and-a-half-day participatory review workshop attended by selected representatives from government, international finance, research, civil society, and UN organizations.

There are three sets of findings with recommendations as follows.

Findings: Broader structural realities that obstruct transformative adaptation
• The broader political ecology and economy compromise local livelihoods through exploitation, appropriation, and extraction of resources by a few powerful players in the name of economic growth. These predatory dynamics disregard the interests of significant populations of small producers and poor households, including women from diverse groups who depend on these resources for their daily livelihoods and survival.
• Intersecting inequalities – such as low income, migrant status, sexuality, ethnic background, age, (dis)ability, and/or gender – undermine people’s benefits, assets, opportunities, and adaptive capacities.
Recommendations for analysis and planning:
• Conduct rigorous, multi-scalar, participatory and holistic gender analyses that identify ways to redress context-specific constraints as an intrinsic part of the modus operandi of custom-designing adaptation measures.
• Use gender analyses to explore ways of breaking procedural habits that marginalize persons, peoples, and communities, with the objective of transforming the broader political and economic trends to enable adaptation practices at the macro level, as well as across local realities and conditions.
• Utilize these comprehensive analyses as a basis for critical reflection and dialog with scientists, policymakers, planners, and stakeholders to identify strategies for change and to then formulate, and follow through on, appropriate measures and indicators in pursuit of transformative adaptation.
• Ensure that specialists in gender and social justice lead and conduct the analyses, so they are not passed on to non-specialists as token compliance with project, donor, or international requirements.
• Recognize that gender-transformative adaptation is an iterative process shaped by multiple feedbacks and loopholes in addressing power relations. Thus, gender-transformative adaptation is an inherently political and dynamic set of measures and strategies; it is not a technical process made up of fixed and one-size-fitsall prescriptions.

Findings: Practices that create gender inequalities in society
• Inequitable access to and control of resources and a lack of democratic rights limit the benefits and opportunities for groups of women.
• Patriarchal gender practices, by definition, control and constrict women’s autonomy, voices, and bodies, perpetuating vulnerabilities that are compounded by intensifying climate change hazards. 
• Unequal gender relations lead to women’s time poverty and to disproportionate burdens of care that intensify during crises.
Recommendations for supporting the agency of women and other groups:
• Promote policy and legislative reforms and programs to enable equal and fair access to and control of resources for traditionally excluded women and men.
• Invest in basic social services and infrastructure – particularly health care, water, sanitation, childcare, and labor-saving technologies – that reduce women’s workloads and build resilience without further curtailing their time and self-determination.
• Create opportunities for women’s self-organization, critical reflection, and partnerships with civic organizations to strengthen women’s claims to their own bodies, to social and natural resources, and to authorities’ accountability. Create spaces where women’s voices and rights are duly recognized and exercised. Promote women’s equal participation and voice in existing civic organizations to share experiences and solutions across groups and sectors, including transnationally.
• Support and create gender-awareness and skills-training opportunities for men and women in different systems and institutions, with the intention to redistribute care work and to cultivate alternative views of care for people and environment.
• Identify and closely liaise with gender-equality champions in well-known organizations to support efforts encouraging less visible groups to adapt positively in transformative ways.
• Invoke and utilize various national and international gender agreements and other change enablers to legitimize attention to promote women’s empowerment holistically through the citizen sphere, the policy sphere, the organizational sphere, and the delivery sphere. 

Findings: Positioning gender equality in climate change programs
• The (re) masculinization and elite capture of new opportunities – under the aegis of the green economy through climate change programs such as carbon markets and industrial agriculture – will sanction old and new gender, class, and ethnic exclusions; therefore, it is maladaptive.
• Climate-proofing supply chains often avoids or ignores highly unequal power relations within supply chains and their implications for exploitative labor practices and social injustice.
• Some gender-transformative adaptation initiatives and programs already exist in all systems that do not burden women further and do ensure equitable benefits to all.

Recommendations for gender mainstreaming in existing sectoral programs:
• Improve the gender balance of planning and decision-making bodies at different administrative scales – even in traditionally technical systems like infrastructure, natural environment, finance and agriculture – not only by incorporating women but by recognizing which women and which men participate, and who it is that they do or do not represent.
• Place labor issues at the forefront of climate risk analyses of industry supply chains to ensure social protection for employees facing climate change threats.
• Ensure that high-quality and rigorous gender analyses inform the design of sustainability and finance projects that require monitoring for results and lessons to avoid new exclusions or harm.
• Systematically track, monitor and evaluate adaptation financing across systems. This is necessary to ensure relevant gender requirements are met and to identify gaps and opportunities that accelerate transformative change.
• Learn from existing gender-transformative adaptation programs by applying and contextualizing lessons and good principles in other places. Good principles include avoiding assignment of further burdens on women, exercising democratic rights to express needs and interests, demanding accountability when necessary, and ensuring benefits are equitable.

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction: Concepts, Objectives and Rationale
2. Natural Environment
3. Food Security, Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture
4. Sustainable Cities
5. Infrastructure
6. Industry and Supply Chains
7. Finance and Investment
8. Enablers of Change
9. Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Topics: Agriculture, Environment, Climate Change, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Intersectionality, Livelihoods, Security, Food Security

Year: 2019

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