As part of our #IWD2021 blog series, Eleanor Bruce makes the case that climate finance is critical for gender equity around the world.
In times of crisis, societal inequalities become exacerbated, meaning women tend to be affected disproportionately due to their gender. Following the 2008 financial crisis, policies of austerity in 2010-15 hit women twice as hard economically as it did men because of cuts to care services and the public sector workforce, of which women make up the majority. Similarly, the Women and Equalities Committee recently published a report on the gendered impact of Covid-19, finding economic support schemes overlooked the female labour market, leading to unequal outcomes for women and men. This suggests that the effects of the climate crisis on women will likely be compounded by existing gender inequalities, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in society, such as indigenous women and women living in extreme poverty.
Worldwide, women have a financial disadvantage to men, with fewer rights and opportunities to borrow and invest money. They find it harder to access credit for starting businesses because institutions view women as riskier to lend to. This has meant only 77% of the global financial services available to men are also accessible to women, and The World Bank found 90% of 143 economies have at least one law restricting women’s economic equality. Women also own less land; only 27% of farm holders in the EU are women, and in lower middle-income countries they may not have the right to own land at all, despite playing a significant role in agriculture[4-5]. Without land, rural women have no right to loans for investing in their business, compromising the potential to maximize land output. This perpetuates poverty even further, as there could be a 17% reduction in the number of hungry people in the world if female farmers had the same access rights to productive resources as males. Equally, domestic gender roles limit women’s management of resources and the ability to make decisions over their use. Such social structures contribute to a gender gap between men and women which will be widened as the need for climate action grows, the distribution of unequal related financing increases, and resources become scarce. For example, as climate change is predicted to cause global food shortages, the subsequent rise in food prices will affect the world’s poorest community members, which are most likely to be women.
Women are also 14x more likely to die from natural disasters than men, and 75% of people displaced by disasters are women and children. Women are more likely to be killed by tsunamis because they are more likely to be trapped inside the home whilst men are outside working and less likely to be informed on weather warnings and shelter facilities. Migration caused by environmental changes further increases the death rates among women, due to behavioural restrictions and lack of access to information. Post-traumatic stress after natural disasters has also been linked to increased domestic violence, such as after Hurricane Katrina, where physical victimization of women increased by 98%. As climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events, it is therefore imperative to ensure any funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation mainstreams gender in its considerations.
Whilst this may be viewed as the ‘greening’ of aid, climate finance which is gender-responsive is also necessary in developed economies. Globally, women comprise only 24% of climate finance boards, and at COP21 only 32% of the delegates were women. Without female representation in climate management negotiations, the different needs and perspectives of women from different backgrounds cannot be taken into account, which may mean decisions for investments into green projects may not be beneficial for women. It is also important to consider that, whilst women are victims of discrimination, they can also be powerful actors in climate change decision-making due to their differential knowledge and use of resources. A recent study, for example, showed that indigenous women in Amazonia were able to identify and use more plant species than men, knowledge which will be important in times of food shortage. Similarly, women are best placed to articulate their first-hand experiences of how climate risks will affect their businesses, care commitments and their economic standing, such as when environmental gentrification of cities drives up housing prices. Including women in the governance of climate finance is essential to equitably fund climate solutions, directly finance female entrepreneurs for innovation, and to bring their unique knowledge into the design to ensure action is sustainable for everyone.
To reduce the gender gap across environmental sectors, several legal and guiding frameworks for climate financing have been developed. The UNFCCC established a Green Climate Fund in 2015 and a Global Environment Facility which gives grants to countries for sustainable development projects. The latter fund adopted a Gender Action Plan in 2017, which ensures any activities pursued promote gender equality and women’s empowerment while simultaneously addressing environmental issues such as deforestation, land degradation and biodiversity loss. Such public sector financing, which establishes gender-based criteria in funding allocation, ensures women are incentivized and set to benefit as much as men from any projects designed.
There are also numerous ways governments can enact gender equity through climate finance. National governments can regulate green project approval processes to include gender-based criteria and synergies between climate change mitigation and women’s economic empowerment, use progressive tax policies to benefit women, and subsidize private sector investment into gender-sensitive green finance projects that will enhance both women’s societal standing and community climate resilience. They can also financially support women’s grassroots initiatives and intervene to ensure women’s participation in decision-making by streamlining processes to resources, such as in the application and monitoring of environmental funds. A variety of fiscal measures can be utilised to eliminate the gender bias within existing finance mechanisms globally, such as insurance schemes, concessional financing, co-financing, blended financing with multilateral and bilateral funds such as the Green Climate Fund, and loans to targeted programmes, each with different equity and gender dimensions. These also fulfil international commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals for achieving global gender equality by 2030.
Although ensuring the gender-responsiveness of climate finance is critical for gender equity, political shifts and women’s governance are also needed to tackle the more deeply rooted social structures which cause women across the world to be powerless. Women, as 50% of the people around the world, need representation and access to financial markets. We cannot face a threat as big as climate change with only one half of the world’s population making decisions on funding and climate solutions.