Relating Climate Change and Gender Inequality

by Claudia Chandra

In 2016, Rebecca Pearse, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Sociology at The Australian National University, conducted a study exploring the relationship between gender and climate change. Her study addressed issues such as whether men and women are impacted by climate change the same way, if governance over climate change is gendered, and if women can potentially take on a role in climate stabilization. These questions are increasingly significant, especially since it has been established that gender relations and inequalities contribute to the development of society in the context of climate change. This knowledge challenges the gender-blind way in which data regarding social changes brought about by changes in climate are collected. Pearse calls for deeper gender analysis in order to stop the omission of “key aspects of social life in a changing climate” in future research endeavors.

One of the study’s findings is the existence of gendered vulnerabilities to climate change. Women have been found to be more affected by climate change than men. This vulnerability, however, is not caused by the intrinsic qualities of women but rather their socioeconomic conditions. For instance, research conducted by Tasokwa Kakota et al. in Southern and Central Malawi corroborates that more women compared to men in these regions have work that is dependent on water and wood fuel. From here Pearse deduces that climate change, which inextricably determines the availability of such resources, becomes central in determining the immediate factors (e.g. poverty and education) associated with “climate change-related burdens.”

Pearse’s studies also confirm the global persistence (and often intensification) of gender inequality with increasing climate change, and the differences in social responses to climate change between men and women. She notes that these disparities in responses are caused by differences in cultural and socioeconomic conditions. Pearse’s report references Beth Bee’s study of women living in drought in Guanajuato, Mexico, to exemplify this theory. Bee’s study affirms that the knowledge of the women in Guanajuato were needed to ensure sufficient food supplies in an environment affected by climate change. However, because of the women’s varying responses to being needed by their communities, Bee concludes that women cannot be defined as “virtuous environmentalists” or “victims of climate change.” Pearse reminds us that the gendered impact of climate change is not merely a copy of gender inequality, but instead a reminder that disturbances to our personal lives may result in “new forms of gender inequality” and new “possibilities for resilience.”

There is empirical evidence that suggests gender inequality as playing a large role in overconsumption in many Western countries. Marjorie Griffin Cohen found that on top of generally consuming more than women, more men also have jobs that contribute to GHG emissions. Unfortunately, the identification of gender inequality in the context of climate governance is rare, and successful action taken against this even more so. Due to this, Pearse believes that effective climate governance cannot arise only from equal representation of men and women, but more importantly from the goals and priorities that these policies seek to achieve.

Pearse’s study draws many clear links between gender and climate change. It shows how society’s understanding and responses towards changes in climate differ not only by gender, but also in a more complex manner determined by socioeconomic and cultural circumstances. More importantly, however, her study underlines the need for a better understanding of gender relations to create factual and current knowledge on climate change and gender inequality.

 

Pearse, Rebecca., 2016. “Gender and Climate Change.” Wiley interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. 2016 Wiley Periodicals Inc.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/wcc.451/full

 

TAGS: Rebecca Pearse, Australian National University, Sociology, Climate Change, Gender, Gender Inequality, Humanities

 

Rebecca.Pearse@anu.edu.au

 

 

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