On February 5, 2018, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Women and Climate Change Act of 2018 (H.R.4932) to “address the disparate impact of climate change on women and support the efforts of women globally to address climate change, and for other purposes.”

The bill would establish the Federal Interagency Working Group on Women and Climate Change to coordinate and implement policies across the federal government regarding climate change impacts on women around the world. The group’s representatives would be drawn from more than 13 different offices, including representatives from the State Department, USAID, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such policies would aim to enhance women’s capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, the bill plans to develop programs to educate women and girls about climate change, while also collecting data on how to best empower local communities. The bill also stresses the importance of cooperation with international civil society and multilateral organizations. For instance, the bill would help implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of its strategy. SDGs are a set of 17 global goals across social, economic, and environmental areas to promote sustainable development (read more about how EESI is helping to implement the SDGs).

Rep. Lee has advocated for the empowerment of women in climate change for about 10 years. In 2009, she introduced a resolution, Recognizing the Disparate Impact of Climate Change on Women and the Efforts of Women Globally to Address Climate Change (H.Con.Res.98). The resolution encouraged “the use of gender-sensitive frameworks, which accounts for the specific impacts of climate change on women,” and would have expressed the support of Congress to empower women in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and policy implementation. The resolution did not advance past committee.

Historically, women and girls, especially in the developing world, are faced with serious challenges to break a persistent cycle of inequality. In many countries, women only earn 60 to 75 percent of men’s wages. Roughly 62 million girls are denied the opportunity to receive an education. Climate change presents yet another challenge to advancing gender equality.

Climate change is expected to worsen droughts and cut crop yields. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of food production in most developing countries. Climate change makes it more difficult for women to feed their families. Furthermore, the underproduction of food could exacerbate existing gender biases in food allocation. In some South Asian countries, women and girls cannot eat before the men and boys in their families. Restrictions in food access could lead to additional malnutrition in women and prompt health problems and low birth-weights. In addition, women and girls are responsible for water collection in about two-thirds of households in the developing world. Climate change will likely worsen water shortages, forcing women to travel further to collect water, reducing their time for education, skill development, and other activities. Women and girls’ health would also be at great risk since they tend to be more vulnerable to diseases after climate-related disasters. Despite the fact that women face higher risks from climate change impacts, they could play a critical role in mitigating and adapting to climate change because of their knowledge and experience related to farming and resource management.

In light of the important role women can play in addressing climate change, member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Gender Action Plan (GAP) at the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP23). The plan aims to advance women’s participation in climate issues, facilitate gender-responsive climate policies, and ensure equal representation of women in the UNFCCC. It sets out five priority areas and a set of specific activities to be implemented in 2018 and 2019, focusing on capacity-building, greater participation of women in climate negotiations, and the continued integration of gender equality into decision making, policy implementation, and reporting in the UNFCCC.

GAP’s goals are regarded as one of the major initiatives to arise from COP23. “[GAP] is a major achievement, as it recognizes the critical role of women in climate action,” declared COP23 President Frank Bainimarama.

This is not the first time the UNFCCC has drawn attention to this issue. In 2012, the UNFCCC launched Momentum for Change, an initiative to recognize organizations and activities tackling climate change. As a part of Momentum for Change, Women for Results focuses on the role of women in climate change. In 2017, the organization Zenab for Women in Development was recognized with an award from the Momentum for Change program. Zenab provided training to women farmers in Sudan about sustainable agricultural practices and how to produce quality seeds. The effort has benefited 5,000 women farmers in 53 villages in Eastern Sudan, Western Sudan, and South Darfur. Women have also increased their involvement in decision-making and secured a wider access to income in their villages.


Author: Jieyi Lu