Gender and Climate Change: A Marriage Made in Jakarta

By Emily Pritchard The Policy Team have just returned from Jakarta, Indonesia where we were running a two day skill-share workshop with Oxfam America for two influential Indonesian organisations, Solidaritas Perempuan (Women’s Solidarity) and Aksi. The skill-share centered on the processes and opportunities for collaboration in the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative (AFAI), a global initiative that seeks to make adaptation-tagged climate finance accountable and transparent. The skill-share is a first step in preparing these two organisations to become the leaders in advocating for transparent and detailed climate adaptation finance accounting in Indonesia.
coffee A morning kopi tubruk... Or three... To get us ready for a big day of skill-sharing. Photo credit: Kairos dela Cruz

Three things that were great about the skill-share workshop:
  • I got to go to Jakarta, yay! Wow, Indonesians are serious about their coffee. I had more coffee in one week than I’ve had in the 500 or so 3in1’s I’ve consumed since arriving in the Philippines.
  • I got to experience south-south knowledge sharing at its best. Knowledge sharing in developing countries is typically a flow from north to south, reinforcing the colonial style relationships between countries and perpetuating the belief that people in the south aren’t already experts of their own development. South-South sharing utilises the expertise in less-developed countries, countries which are often more vulnerable to climate change impacts, typically accrued from their past and present experiences of such impacts.
  • Combining two things I am both personally and professionally actively involved with, gender and climate adaptation. This for me was the most overwhelming and rewarding part of participating in the skill-workshop.
Solidaritas Perempuan and Aksi both fight for women’s rights in varied contexts. You may be wondering ‘why are women’s rights organisations interested in tracking climate change adaptation finance?’ Honestly, I can understand why that would sound strange and at the same time I wish it didn’t. Within public, private and academic institutions there’s a lot of talk about ‘dismantling silos’, or even ‘mainstreaming’ but it hasn’t yet made itself a part of our everyday practice, or quite ironically it hasn’t ‘mainstreamed’ itself. But there are some good reasons we should keep trying.
Women produce more than half of all of the food grown in the world. Photo source: ADB Flickr Women produce more than half of all of the food grown in the world.
Photo source: ADB Flickr

The UN has acknowledged that gender inequality intersects with climate risks and vulnerabilities, and that as such it is important to consider gender in strategies aimed at adapting to changing environmental realities. This is because women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change for a number of reasons. Firstly, they constitute the majority of the world’s poor. Secondly, their livelihoods are more dependent on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. In fact they produce more than half of all of the food grown in the world, and this proportion is as high as 60-80 per cent in developing countries. Moreover their coping capacities are restricted by gender specific social, economic, and political barriers. For example, in many countries women don’t have the same political platform as men so their needs aren’t always heard. [1] The UNDP has also said that “climate change will magnify existing patterns of inequality, including gender inequality” [2].  This highlights the fact that gender is not the only intersecting factor which determines vulnerability to climate change. I would argue that, in taking this more intersectional view of vulnerabilities, the same reasoning could be widened to include other marginalised groups, for example people of diverse sexuality and gender, indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities. These groups, and particularly individuals who are members of more than one of these groups, for example an indigenous woman, are likely to be significantly more vulnerable, and as such more impacted by climate change.  Fair and inclusive climate policy can only exist if these groups are given a specific platform to participate in designing adaptation strategies.
Aleta Baun addresses her community in West Timor, Indonesia. Photo source: The Guardian Aleta Baun addresses her community in West Timor, Indonesia.
Photo source: The Guardian

Many of the same reasons which make women particularly vulnerable to climate change also place them in a unique position to be especially effective drivers of fair climate action. “Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, DRR and adaptation strategies. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as stewards of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities.” – UN Women Watch [1] So while the recognition of women’s vulnerability is important as it highlights the need to consider gender needs when developing international and national strategies to respond to climate change this lesson is also applicable to civil society organisations (CSOs). This is especially pertinent now that the conversation around and action on climate change is shifting towards a more holistic and bottom-up approach that aims for sustainable development [3].  This places more responsibility on CSOs to conduct their work in gender-sensitive ways and make space for women’s experiences, voices and needs in their work, particularly within adaptation. The work of groups like SP and Aksi will help ensure that women’s needs, perspectives and expertise are equally taken into account in climate change adaptation processes. I’m happy that I’m a part of the discussion and excited to see what the work of Solidaritas Perempuan and Aksi produces!
kopi in jakarta Photo credit: Kairos dela Cruz

References: [1] UN WomenWatch (2009), Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change, United Nations: [2] United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2009), Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Change, UNDP: [3] Jordan, A. & van Asselt, H. (2015), Can bottom-up climate action save the day?, Future Earth