Climate Conversations – Women must get their fair share of climate finance

By Nina Somera, GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice

At the end of April, a committee of countries chosen to work out the details of a U.N.-backed Green Climate Fund holds its first meeting in Mexico, to discuss how to get the fund up and running.

It faces some important questions: How to ensure the money goes to those more vulnerable to climate change? How to judge which projects are most effective and efficient? Where will the money come from, and who will decide where it’s allocated?

Much has been said on these fundamental issues which pit developing against developed countries. But further questions still need to be asked, particularly regarding women: What are the benefits of the Green Climate Fund to women? How to incorporate a gender perspective in decision making about the fund? How can the most vulnerable women access resources to build the resilience of their communities? How can the fund compensate women who’ve lost their few assets due to climate change?

Around the world, a large proportion of women still lack access to land, even as they contribute at least 50 percent of food production. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates they could produce as much as 80 to 90 percent of food in some regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

At the same time, the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (UNESCAP) says women and girls are 14 times more likely to be affected by disasters than men and boys. Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, for example, only 189 out of 676 survivors in the Indonesian village of Aceh Besar were women.

And since 2008, the global financial and food crises have pushed more women into informal jobs, including prostitution and sex work, which usually lack any form of state protection even for the most basic rights such as health. Such work is rarely counted in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The impacts of these inequities are likely to worsen with dwindling natural resources and a changing climate. The growing frequency of droughts and floods has left small farmers in deeper debt, forcing them to migrate to cities where the scramble for resources and opportunities is more intense.

Sea-level rise threatens to drive residents of coastal communities in Bangladesh and the Pacific from their homes. And as natural disasters seem to be occurring more frequently, a rising number of affected families are sliding below the poverty line.


Given the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls, it is critical that a substantial part of the Green Climate Fund be allocated for projects that can help them withstand and cope with the challenges they face.

This is not simply a question of charity for the vulnerable. Many women and their communities had already developed sustainable coping mechanisms – such as organic farming, mangrove conservation and rainwater harvesting – before climate financing came into the picture. These indigenous efforts deserve to be supported, scaled up and replicated where appropriate.

At least 30 percent of the new fund should be allocated for projects that directly benefit women. They could include reducing the walking distance to access water and sanitation; helping women secure land ownership and use it productively; supporting mass public transport to make travel safer and easier for women and girls, particularly in rural areas; promoting reproductive health services especially in the context of urban migration and disasters; funding resettlement sites for women-headed households that lose their homes to encroaching seas; and assisting mangrove conservation by all-women cooperatives.

Beyond this, women’s needs should be taken into account in all projects financed by the fund. Women must also have direct access to the money without having to go through an intermediary bank, in order to avoid fees and conditions. And the procedures for submitting proposals and reports should be simple enough to encourage women’s organisations to tap the fund through their national governments.


Unfortunately the climate talks have come to resemble trade negotiations where some parties demand reparations and plead for help, while others evade responsibility for their historical pollution. They are a battle between David, with the G77 and China group and the Alliance of Small Island States on one side, and Goliath, with developed countries, especially the United States, on the other. To genuinely tackle gender issues, we need to get beyond this dynamic.

Even among the ‘Davids’, there are those who make it difficult for women and girls to exercise their rights and freedoms. At the recent Bangkok climate talks, many developing countries did not cite gender balance in their vision for the fledgling Adaptation Committee. The main concern was to get as many seats as possible. Some also explicitly refused to make gender a criterion in the selection of adaptation projects.

Giving developing countries more leverage in the Adaptation Committee is legitimate. It could also be argued that having more women on the committee does not guarantee gender-sensitive governance.  But having an equal proportion of women on board is a big step in the right direction.

Making stronger statements on gender and climate financing is an imperative that cannot wait for power dynamics to be recalibrated. After all, climate change is already magnifying long-standing issues such as unfair trade, unequal access to land, violations of sexual and reproductive health rights, racial discrimination and gender inequality.

Gender is a fundamental issue that, when overlooked, can disempower communities and derail budding efforts to achieve human rights and equality. As Ana Pinto, a feminist who works with indigenous peoples in India’s Manipur state, once said, “When women are demanding that our voices be heard, we are not doing this for ourselves but for the community we take care of.”

For more information, visit the GenderCC website.


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