‘Gender, Climate And Security’: UN Investigates The Link Between Gender Dynamics, Violence And Climate Change In Groundbreaking New Report

Gender dynamics play a significant role in crises across the globe, from armed conflicts to climate change. However, according to a new UN report entitled ‘Gender, Climate and Security’, not enough attention has been paid to the role of gender in shaping and responding to these crises. The report, authored by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) alongside UN Women, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA), seeks to remedy this by investigating the link between gender, climate and security in a variety of case studies.

According to the report, threats to security in many areas of the world are exacerbated by the effects of climate change. ‘Rising temperatures, extended droughts, or heavier, harsher storms are resulting in loss of livelihoods, increasing competition over scarce resources and fuelling migration and displacement,’ the report explains. Gender norms and expectations, as well as gender power relations, play a critical role in shaping how women and men are ‘impacted by – and respond to – such crises.’ The report argues that understanding how gender, climate and security are linked can help ‘policymakers, development practitioners and peace-builders mitigate risks of violence,’ paving the way for sustainable peace and more equal societies.

The report, published last week, was issued in response to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for a gendered approach to climate change and conflict. In his 2019 report on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), the Secretary-General stated that gaining a deeper understanding of the gender dimensions of climate and security risks is integral to combat threats to peace and the planet, as well as advancing gender equality. Mr. Guterres highlighted that climate change often exacerbates existing crises, which ‘disproportionately affect women and girls.’ For this reason, the Secretary-General stressed an ‘urgent need’ to address the link between climate and security emergencies from a gender perspective and to ensure that ‘concrete, immediate actions’ are taken based on this.

It may seem surprising that this call for better research into the relationship between gender, climate and security came just last year, but this reflects the fact that only in recent years have UN agencies adopted a more gender-responsive approach to climate and conflict issues in general. For instance, it was not until 2015 that the UNEP introduced a gender policy for the first time to guide its projects. Meanwhile, the link between women and security was established in 2000 through Security Council Resolution 1325, the first in a series of subsequent WPS resolutions that have focused on gender-related security issues. Resolution 1325 was groundbreaking at the time, focussing on the impact of war on women and proposing the inclusion of women in peacekeeping roles. Since then, WPS resolutions have increasingly begun to include links between women and their role in environmental issues.

Nonetheless, two decades after the first WPS Resolution, little has been done to advance a gender perspective of climate and conflict issues together. The recent ‘Gender, Climate and Security’ report indicates a significant step in the UN’s approach to global crises. It does not interpret a ‘gender-responsive approach’ to mean focussing solely on the ways in which women are victims of violence in conflicts and climate crises, for which many of the early WPS Resolutions have been criticized. Instead, the new report offers a more holistic approach to ‘gender’ by examining the specific roles of both women and men in security and climate emergencies, and asking how these crises affect women and men differently.

The report presents a number of case studies which each reveals how gender norms and power structures determine how women and men are affected by, and respond to, crises. For instance, the case studies for Sudan and Nepal reveal that the effects of climate change can lead to a depletion of resources and labour opportunities in many communities. This often results in the migration of men away from their communities to seek work elsewhere, meaning women are left with increased responsibilities to manage their households and provide for their families in often insecure environments.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the report explains that water and energy shortages exacerbated by climate change have put immense pressure on women, who experience domestic violence for ‘failing’ to manage their households with the depleting water supplies. In addition, extreme flooding in parts of the country has prevented men from fulfilling their prescribed role as breadwinners, which can cause anxieties that may lead to domestic violence, and has also been linked to the mobilization of men into criminal groups.

It is commendable that the report adopts an intersectional approach to these issues, by acknowledging that many different factors, such as race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, create multiple layers of discrimination. For example, the report highlights the discrimination that indigenous women in Papua and West Papua (Indonesia) face based on their ethnic and cultural identities, as well as their gender. Indigenous Papuan women, who are traditionally responsible for providing food for their families, are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, which is caused by changing weather patterns and environmental degradation from the mining and palm oil industries. Displacement can occur due to lands and resources being under threat, and the report states that women from these displaced communities are made more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Each case study demonstrates how climate change can deepen challenges for households, leading to severe impacts on whole communities. The report exposes the relationship between climate change, depleting resources, the mobilization of men into criminal groups, and violence against women, in a way that no other Security Council Resolution has done to this extent before. In a statement about the report on 9 June, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said that ‘Gender inequality, climate vulnerability, and state fragility are strongly interlinked – we know, for example, that countries with higher values in one of these areas tend to score higher in the other two.’ The case studies display empirical examples of how this link can perpetuate economic insecurity, gender-based violence, and climate destruction.

The report signals a significant step towards a deeper understanding of these issues, but what impact will this have on the UN’s approach to tackling them? The authors of the report recommend that further steps are made to address climate and security issues through a gender lens, and they express their hope that this initial step will help to guide ‘policy-making, investments, programme design and research’. They hope that gender-responsive action will be taken by UN bodies and member-states on climate and security that ‘ultimately contributes to inclusive and sustainable peace.’

Whether impactful policy will be implemented to address these issues, time will tell. However, the report indicates that the UN is taking conscious steps to reform its gender-responsive approach in the early WPS resolutions. Instead of focussing primarily on mitigating the impact of violence on women like these early resolutions, the new report analyses the complex ways in which gender dynamics compound socio-economic inequalities, climate destruction and insecurity, demonstrating what viewing issues through a ‘gender lens’ actually means. At the very least, this report sets a precedent for international bodies and governments to recognize the importance of approaching global crises as multidimensional, which will have a positive impact on combatting the effects of climate change and securing sustainable peace.


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