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Gender, displacement and climate change (July 2020)

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Climate change impacts people differently according to their gender roles and responsibilities. Combined with other characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and geographical location, it contributes to differing vulnerabilities and displacement dynamics.

Gender inequalities can render women particularly vulnerable to climate hazards. Women’s and girl’s participation and empowerment is key to addressing disaster displacement and its harmful outcomes, such as increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence among other risks.

Adopting a “gender” lens allows us to understand the power imbalances, discrimination and inequality exacerbated by climate change and how to redress them. It helps highlight women’s important role in leading sustainable transformations.

GENDER INEQUALITY IN THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY

The impacts of climate change deepen existing gender inequalities. Due to socio-cultural norms, women may have less opportunity to influence household decision-making to mitigate and cope with the impacts of climate change, including on whether to leave home or stay.

In rural regions where subsistence farming is common, women and girls are the primary providers of food, water and fuel. Climate change directly impacts resource scarcity, making these tasks increasingly difficult and dangerous. Women and girls are often prevented from pursuing education and economic opportunities.

Men are also exposed to structural vulnerabilities. For example, in Chad, farmers and pastoralists cannot easily find alternative livelihoods during times of drought, exposing them to recruitment by armed groups. Often, as the first in the family to be displaced, they face insecurity while seeking work and safety.

GENDER-SPECIFIC RISKS IN DISASTER DISPLACEMENT CONTEXTS

Women displaced by disaster often face increased protection risks such as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), exploitation and trafficking. Limited access to healthcare can also impede women’s access to life-saving health services, including reproductive and mental health services.

Displaced women’s adaptive capacities are often limited due to socio-cultural norms, restricted livelihood options, lack of access to formalized safety nets and fewer possibilities to benefit from technologies and information. Other impacts may include increased hardship due to their lack of financial assets and limited rights to land and property. When women lack the resources and freedom to move, they may become trapped in areas where climate and disaster risk is high.

Transgender, intersex and non-binary people may also be particularly exposed to adverse displacement outcomes, particularly regarding access to adequate healthcare and protection.