Advancing gender equality and social inclusion through climate action
In a year of unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, record-breaking heatwaves in India, famine and drought in Somalia and raging wildfires across Europe and the western United States, the urgency of climate action is clear. Countries in the North and South are feeling the effects of climate change, but its impacts are highly unequal. Low-income countries that have contributed the least to global warming are among the hardest hit. Marginalized people and those living in poverty are at the greatest risk from heatwaves, drought, crop failure and other effects.
Globally, women are more likely to be living in poverty due to the unfair distribution of care work and their concentration in low-paid and informal work. In Africa, women do three to five times more unpaid care work than men. This burden limits their income and opportunities and reduces their options for adapting to climate change. Along with other marginalized groups, they have little say in climate action plans that may be key to their survival. They also have fewer opportunities to benefit from an economic transition to low-carbon pathways.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the urgent need for research to accelerate adaptation and address gender and social inequalities. Research to enhance adaptation and resilience needs to be locally led and inclusive to give the people most affected by climate change a voice in shaping solutions. To provide the evidence base that is needed, IDRC is investing in new research to strengthen gender-responsive climate action in the Global South.
Changing how we think about gender and climate change
IDRC’s understanding and approaches have evolved over more than 15 years of supporting research on climate change adaptation and, more recently, mitigation. Findings from successive projects have shown that understanding how climate change risks, vulnerabilities and response options differ between men and women — and across different social groups and livelihoods — is fundamental to supporting climate action.
Gender intersects with other social factors to shape vulnerabilities and options.
Gender alone does not shape vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. Research on adaptation in semi-arid regions showed that gender is just one of many factors (including ability, age, education, ethnicity, household composition and socio-economic status) that are essential to understanding vulnerabilities. Looking at how these factors interact is key: applying an intersectional frame reveals how gender and other factors work together to shape vulnerability and influence people’s responses to climate change.
Adaptation can transform gender and social norms.
IDRC-supported research has highlighted the potential for climate change adaptation to be gender-transformative, carving out new opportunities for men and women to exercise their agency in ways that go beyond traditional roles. In this view, gender and social differences are not just vulnerabilities, but potential sources of resilience.
Women have much to contribute to climate action and resilience.
An examination of gendered vulnerabilities in semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia challenged the idea that women are powerless victims of climate change. Research in Kenya, for example, showed how empowering women entrepreneurs can contribute significantly to community resilience. Strengthening the agency of women and other vulnerable groups, while challenging the social structures and environmental factors that make them vulnerable in the first place, is vital for building resilience.
IDRC has focused on empowering women in many areas of climate action. Through the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES) initiative, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Next Einstein Initiative Fellowships for Women in Climate Change Science, and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network’s (CDKN) training for Gender and Climate Change Focal Points, IDRC has strengthened women’s capacity as climate negotiators, researchers and leaders at various levels.
Through the Leadership, Climate Change and Cities Specialization initiative, 102 young urban leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean — more than two-thirds women — received post-graduate training and an opportunity to contribute to climate action. Based on studies they produced on climate change and related conflicts in urban areas, seed funding was provided to selected local interventions in areas such as cycling, urban greening and the restoration of ecological corridors. This experiential learning bolstered local adaptation while building a cadre of emerging leaders.
How IDRC supports more inclusive research
Climate change and inequalities are addressed as dual challenges across IDRC’s Strategy 2030. We require grantees to integrate gender equality and social inclusion goals and approaches in their work and we invest heavily in building grantee capacity in these areas. Successive programs have offered a mix of training, peer learning and expert accompaniment to strengthen these dimensions of climate change research.
From 2019–2022, we supported an action-learning effort that worked with project teams in six countries to strengthen their ability to undertake gender-transformative research to accelerate climate action. Accompanied by Gender at Work, the teams found that applying transformative approaches entails much more than integrating gender into research questions and methods: it means the more equitable functioning of teams, strengthening women’s voices within the research team itself, and a greater focus on learning in communities to allow diverse women to participate in decision-making, policy discussions and personal learning.
Projects applied these new understandings to their work. In Benin, for example, the team adapted an existing vulnerability assessment tool to better capture gender considerations. Using an intersectional approach, they then used the tool to strengthen community adaptation planning to better meet the needs and interests of women, the elderly, people living with a disability and other vulnerable groups.
Looking forward: investing in the nexus of gender and climate action
Gender and social inclusion are fundamental to a new suite of research initiatives backed by IDRC:
- Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) is a partnership between IDRC and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Gender equality and inclusion are integrated across CLARE, backed by capacity strengthening and cross-cutting monitoring, evaluation and learning. Supported research teams must have a credible plan to monitor how they engage with and affect different social groups.
- Gender Equality in a Low Carbon World (GLOW) puts women’s leadership at the heart of low-carbon transition strategies. Action research in 17 countries is exploring innovations that boost women’s economic progress and promote climate action.
- Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises (SPARC) aims to build the resilience of pastoralists and farmers in fragile parts of Africa and the Middle East that are experiencing climate change, armed conflict and weak governance. With a focus on women, youth and people with disabilities, IDRC is supporting SPARC research in Nigeria and South Sudan that takes an intersectional approach to building more inclusive livelihoods and climate-resilient food systems.
- Step Change, a new CAD28.6-million partnership between IDRC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, will mobilize knowledge into action and build climate leadership and capacity to advance gender-responsive and socially inclusive climate-resilient development.
Learn more about:
Gender alone does not shape vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. Looking at factors such as ability, age, education, ethnicity, household composition and socio-economic status is essential to understand vulnerabilities.
- Gender and social differences are not just vulnerabilities, but potential sources of resilience.
- Empowering women entrepreneurs can contribute significantly to community resilience. Strengthening the agency of women and other vulnerable groups, while challenging the social structures and environmental factors that make them vulnerable in the first place, is vital for building resilience.