′Understanding gender is essential for human development′ | Global Ideas | DW | 08.03.2011
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Global Ideas

'Understanding gender is essential for human development'

Samantha Hung, gender and development specialist at the Asian Development Bank, talks about why women are more at risk from climate change than men and why climate negotiations need to include a gender perspective.

Samantha Hung, gender and development specialist at the Asian Development Bank

Samantha Hung says a gendered approach is a "common-sense approach"

DW-WORLD.DE: Are women more affected than men by climate change?

Samantha Hung: Women are generally more vulnerable than men to poverty. In the Asia Pacific region alone, over 600 million poor live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day. The majority of them are women and they are more dependent on the natural resources available to maintain their livelihoods. So at that level, there's a greater vulnerability.

But also due to culturally assigned gender roles, women in most Asian and Pacific countries also bear a disproportionate burden in coping with the growing scarcity of resources. So if we're talking about less water and food or firewood available – that has a direct impact on women's daily work load because women and girls usually collect the water, firewood etc.

We also know that where there are climate change induced disasters, there are very clear gender differentiated impacts as well. Statistics show that women are much more likely even to die when there's a flood or tsunami for example. That's often due to a lack of mobility because they have to stay to protect children or are unable to flee without male relatives. Or issues such as women being less likely to be taught and know how to swim and so on.

Of course these things are much more pronounced in rural areas. But we're also seeing gender impacts of climate change in urban areas as well, for example in urban slums, when there are more severe floods or greater heat waves.

What are the reasons for women being disproportionately impacted by climate change?

The climate change debate has certainly focused strongly on economic impacts of climate change and not as much on the social dimensions – on how people are affected. That's a large part of it. But another very big reason is that although women are the ones actually facing climate change and dealing with it at a daily and household level, they are often absent from the decision-making whether at community level, national or international level. There's very little space for women's voices in climate change dialogue. And when women are not at the table, then it is very easy for their needs to be overlooked. And that plays out in adaptation and mitigation efforts too. This is a bit of generalization, but men tend to be more inclined towards large-scale technology whereas it's the smaller-scale technology such as energy-efficient cooking stoves that are more likely to have a direct impact on women in developing countries at a daily level.

A woman in Haiti carries a pot of water on her head

Women usually have a lot of knowledge about managing scarce resources such as water

At the same time, a lot of the discourse when you're talking about gender and adaptation is somewhat biased towards women being perceived as vulnerable. Yes, there is a disproportionate vulnerability. But women are actually very powerful agents of change because they have great knowledge about natural resources. They are also the ones who are better equipped to change behavior at household level and family level. So it's a complex issue...But the most important thing is the recognition of why gender is important and the need for gender analysis when designing any kind of climate change adaptation or mitigation project or program.

Is there growing awareness of the issue?

I think awareness is gradually growing but there's still a long way to go. If you look at the big climate change agreements at the international level, you see small steps towards adopting gender-specific language in key documents. That wasn't there, say five to ten years ago. That's thanks to lobbying by women groups. At the same time, there is a need for much more awareness-raising among governments and people that work in the area of climate change. I don't think it's a given that every climate change expert is necessarily aware of the complexity of gender issues.

A gendered approach is very much a common-sense approach. If you exclude half the population, then half the population is not contributing to the sustainability of any intervention. That applies across the board. And particularly so in an area where you're talking about things that affect women's daily lives and women's ability to adapt themselves to changing environments. For example, when we talk of climate-change induced migration, it's women who are often the least able to migrate. So they're the ones who are going to have to have the capacity and resilience to adapt if they're not able to move away from it. It's critical with any form of development – you can't support sound human development if you don't understand gender.

A group of women in the Ivory Coast

Unless women’s voices are heard in decision-making, their needs will be overlooked

What can be done to make gender analysis an integral part of climate change?

A large part of it involves education and training for women whether at a general level or at a project-specific level to provide them with new adaptive technologies, enable them to engage in climate change discussions, and access available resources. Also, when governments go to these large international meetings and climate summits, they need to explicitly ensure that they bring in gender-specific language, consult with women's groups during preparation and importantly, involve women on their delegations.

Factoring in a gender perspective is very critical in climate change responses whether it's disaster-mitigation, technical assistance, sustainable transport, energy or other relevant projects.

Sonia Phalnikar interviewed Samantha Hung
Editor: Ranty Islam

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