Gender, Climate Change, and Security
By Ms. Nayeon Kim, on behalf of the WPS Committee
The interconnecting issues of gender disparity, climate change, and security often do not receive the attention and policy response they deserve. Failure to properly recognize and address these connections has serious implications for advancing the global agenda of gender equity, mitigating climate change, and peace/security.
While gender issues have been largely neglected by policymakers, there have been efforts to establish and understand its linkages since the mid-1990s. Some of the fruits of their labour have been the creation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) in 2000, nine subsequent WPS resolutions, and the integration of gender in the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change in 2013. As of last year, the Biden-Harris Administration released the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality fact sheet, a first-ever national gender strategy emphasizing the importance of gender equality in humanitarian relief and the linkage between gender equity and climate change. Most recently, climate change and disaster risk reduction were priority themes at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 66th session.
We owe much of this progress to the gender champions, scholars, and activists. However, we continue to witness these topics being routinely ignored by the security and climate policy communities. As it currently stands, the gendered risks and dangers of security and climate issues are overlooked, poorly understood, and poorly represented in policy change. When we consider the strong established association between gender inequality and instability/conflict both between and within countries, it is clear that this problem that affects all of us and requires immediate attention.
There are multiple reasons why experts in the security and climate change communities have failed to integrate gender perspectives into their policies. All stem from the primary issue of a misguided understanding of the concept of gender, chiefly the misconception that “gender” equals “women.” Most importantly, topics around “gender issues” are often conflated with “women’s issues,” leading many male-dominated discussions to downplay or disregard the relevance of these issues. This also lends to the conflation of “women and girls” with “women and children,” which infantilizes women and causes them to be framed in passive and powerless terms. It is also important to note that limiting “gender issues” to “women’s issues” leaves out many groups of people, specifically those of the LGBTQ+ community, and only reinforces a non-intersectional understanding of gender dimensions. Lastly, the current masculinist discourses on the politics of security and climate change fail to acknowledge a significant source of gender inequalities in human affairs, including the patriarchal institutions that structure social, economic, and political powers.
The connection between climate change and security is one that has received bidirectional attention from both climate change and security experts, thus facilitating its translation into policy actions. Scholarly literature studying this linkage is robust and has resulted in the emergence of the field of Environmental Security studies. Some of the many concerns include rising sea levels threatening small island nations and coastal cities; extreme weather and increasing temperatures threatening the viability of human habitats; and the impacts of climate-motivated migrations on government viability and regional stability. However, several major global powers have refused to formally recognize the climate-security connection, despite the many assertions of climate experts that the dangers of climate change on human security will only intensify in the coming years.
It is important to recognize that women are disproportionately affected by the environmental and health impacts of climate change due to social, economic, and political inequities. In May 2021 it was reported by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that the connections between gender and environmental goals were “insufficiently visible and inadequately prioritized” in policies. These linkages could be better emphasized and subsequently addressed with having more women in positions of leadership.
Most nations and national military organizations are male led, and armed conflict is highly gendered in the sense that most military personnel from top to bottom are men. Civilians, however, face many gendered dangers such as high incidences of conflict-related sexual violence. Gender inequality has been strongly correlated with social/political instability, insecurity, conflict, and war – more so than other political and economic factors. To fully understand the humanitarian disasters associated with conflict, one cannot neglect the importance of gender inequalities.
Gender inequity, climate change, and security are the “triple nexus” dominating global affairs. These problems are serious and universal, yet fortunately are under our control; a better world requires that more attention is paid to the ideas and behaviours that shape gender relations.
There is a real-time call for policymakers and practitioners to invest in research and policy within the climate-gender-conflict nexus and address five priority areas of action:
- Buffer the disproportionate vulnerabilities women bear from climate change impacts.
- Center women as crucial actors in climate, peace, and security.
- Strengthen linkages between the different levels and sectors in the climate-gender-conflict nexus.
- Address knowledge gaps within the nexus.
- Promote women’s leadership in climate-related conflict mitigation and prevention and reduce barriers to inclusion.