Image by UN Women/Joe Saade
  • Blog
  • 11 July 2023

Mind the gaps between gender equality and environmental sustainability

DI’s Hayley Lelourec highlights where action is needed: gender mainstreaming in environmental policy, addressing knowledge gaps and funding to local, women-led organisations.

Written by Hayley Lelourec

Policy & Engagement Advisor

Women and girls face a disproportionate impact from environmental challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss. Limited access to resources and the unequal distribution of unpaid labour undermine their ability to cope with and respond effectively to environmental shocks. Some women and girls are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation due to being at the crossroads of several drivers of exclusion. Gender intersects with other variables such as age, disability, race, class and ethnicity, and recognising the compounding effect of these intersections is essential to promote social justice and create inclusive societies. We must better understand and address the specific challenges faced by individuals from marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Women and girls play a crucial role in addressing environmental challenges, but pre-existing gender inequalities pose significant obstacles to building a sustainable, fair, and green world. To enable an effective response to climate impacts, we must address power imbalances and socio-cultural norms that perpetuate these inequalities. By recognising and accounting for these pre-existing inequalities, we can then mitigate the disproportionate impact of the triple planetary crisis on women and girls.

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What needs to change?

The international community is ramping up efforts to attain better recognition and understanding of the gender–environment nexus. However, there are still many gaps to fill, starting with a lack of data about the links between gender and the environment. Only 20 out of the 114 environment-related indicators of the SDG framework can be disaggregated by gender or are categorised as environmental indicators relevant to gender policies.

Good, disaggregated data is fundamental to better understand the extent to which environmental challenges affect the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of women and girls. We need to be able to consistently monitor differentiated outcomes such as increasing incidences of gender-based violence and rising levels of food insecurity for women over time. There are tools that can help us fill these gaps, including gender data landscaping to identify where gender data gaps are. DI has explored ways of closing gender gaps and therefore supporting a system which leaves no one behind.

Mainstreaming gender in environmental policy is critical to make sure that gender inequalities and the impacts on women and girls are acknowledged and addressed. It is also crucial to enable the role of women as agents of change towards a just and green transition and ensure their voices are heard. The 2019 survey conducted by the OECD’s Environment Policy Committee revealed that, while 21 out of 38 OECD member countries considered gendered aspects at least some of the time in their environmental policymaking, only 11 did so systematically. Environmental policies need to be gender-responsive and evidence-based to achieve mutually reinforcing gender equality and environmental goals.

We know that women, girls and marginalised communities are structurally more vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss, and that this can intensify existing gender inequalities that maintain them in poverty and in the margins. Despite this, only 2.4% of climate-related official development assistance (ODA) in 2018–2019 incorporated gender equality as a principal objective. This means we are at risk of exacerbating gender inequalities or contributing to worsening climate impacts.

Lessons from the humanitarian sector repeatedly demonstrate that national and local actors better identify community needs and respond rapidly when a crisis occurs. Moreover, women’s rights organisations (WROs) and women-led organisations (WLOs) are best placed to understand the specific needs of women and girls. Previous DI research has shown that in the context of accelerating climate change and environmental degradation, local organisations – especially local WROs and WLOs – need more direct funding to manage climate impacts.

Empowering local women as decision-makers and leaders in environmental action will help ensure their experiences and interests are taken into account and will be conducive to environmental sustainability. Tracking investments to WROs and WLOs is paramount to making sure finance is reaching organisations that are uniquely able to deliver.