The fields of climate change and Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) are often viewed as separate from one another. The sooner we acknowledge that they are inextricably linked, the sooner we can take synergistic action.
The landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 formalized the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. The WPS Agenda affirms the critical role of women in addressing security threats, and calls for women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding efforts. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a security threat. It drives insecurity both through direct negative impacts on environmental systems and through secondary risks such as political instability, population displacements, poverty, and hunger. Despite this reality, only about one in four WPS National Action Plans make a direct reference to climate. For the most effective response to the security threat posed by climate change, we must leverage frameworks such as the WPS Agenda to recognize the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and the security threats they pose. The WPS Agenda also offers a valuable tool to ensure women’s meaningful participation in climate interventions.
“Pre-existing vulnerabilities and patterns of discrimination rooted in structural inequalities create disproportionate impacts for women and other marginalized groups who are less able to absorb and recover from climate shocks.”
The impacts of climate change are not gender neutral
The climate crisis is the existential threat of our time. Research shows that, around the world, climate change is creating uneven burdens on women. Just as the impacts of conflict are not gender neutral, the same is true of the impacts of climate change. Pre-existing vulnerabilities and patterns of discrimination rooted in structural inequalities create disproportionate impacts for women and other marginalized groups who are less able to absorb and recover from climate shocks. For example, it has been recorded that women are 14 times more likely than men to die in natural disasters. Today, natural disasters are occurring more than three times as often as they were just 50 years ago.
The gendered impacts of climate change in many ways mirror the same vulnerabilities women face in situations of conflict. For example, in Somalia, shifting precipitation patterns due to climate change leads to water scarcity and contributes to higher rates of clan violence and honor killings, which particularly harm women. Early marriage rates also rise as families cope with livelihood insecurity. As climate stressors displace people into IDP camps, rates of sexual violence rise.
Furthermore, it is well-documented that around the world women are responsible for a disproportionate share of unpaid labor, including providing water and fuel for households. More time spent on these activities due to climate change can increase the exposure of women and girls to gender-based violence. It also has implications for women’s economic empowerment and their ability to pursue paid work, as well as opportunities for girls to stay enrolled in school. In Guatemala, for example, women now dedicate up to eight hours per day searching for water, almost double the time and distance required during normal years.
Women are key actors in addressing the climate crisis
Women are key actors in addressing drivers of insecurity and fostering peace and stability in their countries. Analysis from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s 2021-2022 Global Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index report, which measures women’s wellbeing in 170 countries, found that countries that score better on the WPS Index are also more peaceful and stable. Given that climate change is a security threat, it is unsurprising that this same report found that countries that score better on the WPS Index are less vulnerable to climate change and are better prepared to respond to its impacts. This further underscores why looking at these issues together is critical to effective action and how investing in women can accelerate progress on both climate, security, and gender equality.
Despite a growing evidence base that inclusive approaches generate better outcomes, gender-responsive climate interventions remain significantly under-resourced. According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme, only 0.01% of funding worldwide supports projects that address both climate and women’s rights. Efforts to address the climate crisis and the forms of insecurity it creates will not reach their full potential without women. Funding must be rapidly scaled up and mechanisms must be in place to ensure these resources reach women and communities most affected by climate impacts. The WPS field can play a central role in these efforts to build a more secure future. Gender-responsive climate interventions can serve as a “benefit multiplier” that bolster women’s economic empowerment and role in decision-making, which has the potential to positively impact not only the climate crisis, but also strengthen efforts to advance the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.
Here are five key areas of action to support inclusive climate action.
- Address barriers to inclusion. Climate interventions should be informed by an intersectional gender analysis to ensure that women have equal access to participation in these initiatives.
- Ensure that women have access to education and to information. Women need appropriate education and resources, including access to technology and information, as well as education around how climate change can impact their livelihoods and why transitioning to more sustainable practices can be greatly beneficial.
- Position women as leaders. Women have an influential role to play as leaders, decision-makers, and entrepreneurs in project design and implementation. Rather than being viewed as solely beneficiaries of climate interventions, women should be positioned as the key actors they are.
- Fill knowledge gaps. Diverse case studies and data related to women’s contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are severely lacking, and development institutions as well as academics have an important role to play in filling these critical knowledge gaps by collecting more data.
- Leverage existing frameworks. The WPS Agenda provides a framework for centering women in global peace and security efforts and accounting for the unique impacts of conflict and crises on women. Integrating climate security into WPS efforts is a critical step to successfully address the security threats posed by climate change and bolster women’s meaningful participation in solutions.
Learn more about GIWPS’ research on Climate Change & Disaster Risk Reduction here.
Clara Chiu is the Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellow on Climate at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
Jessica Smith is the Research and Policy Director at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.