10 things to know: Gender equality and achieving climate goals

Submitted by CDKN Communications Team | published 5th May 2016 | last updated 13th Jan 2020
capture3 - climate adaptation.


Although climate change and poverty are increasingly recognised as interlinked global problems, responses from governments and development agencies often focus on their scientific and economic dimensions only. International frameworks are gradually reflecting gender issues better, but all too often wording about gender is simply added to existing policies, while women’s views, needs and participation are – in reality – excluded from climate change responses and development initiatives. Moreover, women are frequently perceived as victims, with little consideration for the contribution and leadership they could provide in mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

This guide* summarises the findings and recommendations of a study on the benefits and challenges of pursuing climate compatible development from a gender perspective. The research looked at four main questions, using case studies from Peru, India and Kenya:

  1. What does a ‘gender-sensitive’ approach to climate compatible development mean in different urban contexts?
  2. What evidence is there that gender-sensitive approaches to climate compatible development can promote and achieve people’s empowerment?
  3. What socioeconomic, political and cultural factors constrain or favour gender-sensitive approaches to climate compatible development?
  4. Does a gender-sensitive approach enable better climate compatible development outcomes and if so, in what way?

All three case studies have climate-related disaster risk management and climate change adaptation goals. As most research into gender and climate change so far has been carried out in rural contexts, this study has put special emphasis on urban settings. The objective of these studies is to contribute new evidence to this arena and provide insights that will help policy-makers and practitioners to foster more inclusive climate and development interventions.

Provided below are 10 findings to prove that gender-sensitive approaches lead to better climate and development outcomes – and how they do it. These are covered in more detail in the full text.

*download from the right-hand column or via the link under further resources.

10 things to know: Gender equality and achieving climate goals

  1. It matters: Gender-sensitive approaches recognise people’s different needs. When organisations are planning climate vulnerability and capacity assessments, these are enhanced by gender-sensitive analysis. Such analysis not only provides a more in-depth understanding of the effects of climate change. It also reveals the political, physical and socioeconomic reasons why men and women suffer and adapt differently to everyday climaterelated challenges, extreme events and longer-term environmental changes.

  2. It works: Gender-sensitive approaches lead to more sustainable outcomes for climate compatible development. A lack of women’s active involvement negatively affects the implementation, monitoring and overall sustainability of interventions to enhance people’s resilience. In contrast, when decisionmaking processes have been opened up to include women, as in Peru, initiatives tend to be better organised, and results to be more transparent and comprehensive. In these cases, initiatives have more detailed information on the day-to-day climate change and poverty challenges families and communities face. 

  3. Location matters: Urban livelihoods differ and so should gender approaches to urban development. Cities present different social, economic and political structures to rural areas. This has implications for how climate compatible development programmes should be implemented in order to support women and men’s access to resources according to their contexts and priorities.

  4. Vulnerability to urban risks is exacerbated by everyday gender inequalities. Vulnerabilities of people to environmental hazards are rooted in everyday inequalities and poverty.

  5. Beyond just ‘needs’: Gender approaches address power imbalances and unequal decision-making. For many development practitioners, talking about gender means participation of women at some stage of the project cycle, and compensating for their greater vulnerability to climate change. However, adopting a gender approach does not necessarily mean focusing solely on the needs of women or girls. A gender-sensitive strategy recognises and addresses the different interests and capacities shown by both men and women, as well as the pre-existing power relations between them. 

  6. Promoting gender equality must be an explicit goal at the start of any project. Addressing existing inequalities in society should be an explicit goal from the start of climate compatible development projects. Otherwise, the design and implementation of activities might not only ignore differences between men and women’s vulnerabilities and capacities, but projects might also maintain the status quo and perpetuate gender inequalities. Projects need to adopt gender-based targets for participation and set up objectives that aim to transform gender relations from the beginning, so that they monitor and evaluate performance adequately. 

  7. When projects do not use gender approaches, participatory processes can still ‘save the day’. Gender-sensitive needs assessments encourage the meaningful participation of men and women. This is possible when organisations use bottom-up and participatory approaches to give women and men a chance to bring out their diverse needs, priorities and the range of skills through which each can contribute to climate compatible development. 

  8. The drivers for gender-sensitive climate compatible development: Commitment, policy and skills. Climate compatible development does not take place in a vacuum, and this research has identified some of the main drivers for moving towards gender-sensitive policies and practices.

  9. Still a long way to go: Multiple obstacles prevent initiatives from transforming power relations. Just as there are drivers, there are conditions and norms that hinder progress towards gender-sensitive climate compatible development.

  10. Monitoring and evaluation of gender outcomes is vital to promote gender equality. Development initiatives in urban areas often involve working with scarce resources and how to (re)distribute them more justly among members of society. To achieve this, we have to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Methods and Tools

This report used a qualitative methodology based on case studies from India, Peru and Kenya.

These three case studies centred on projects that:

  • were already completed or which had been implemented for at least 2–3 years;
  • were implemented in urban areas;
  • had dealt with climate compatible development (climate change adaptation, mitigation or disaster risk reduction); and
  • had addressed issues of gender. 

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants including community members, staff at non-governmental organisations (NGOs), decision-makers and donor representatives. The majority of informants were aged between 19 and 65 years old. Focus group discussions were conducted with separate groups of men and women (in India) and mixed groups (in India, Kenya and Peru).

33 focus group discussions were conducted, including three women-only groups, three men-only groups and 27 mixed groups; 89 people were interviewed individually (54 men and 35 women).

Conclusion – the way forward

This research has gathered empirical evidence from urban settings on the gender dimension of people’s vulnerabilities and capacities to face climate change. It revealed how climate compatible interventions have (or have not) used gender-sensitive approaches to implement their activities and what impacts such approaches had on development outcomes in urban contexts.

Existing gender inequalities, patriarchal culture and asymmetrical power structures are key barriers to integrating gender considerations into climate compatible development. The lack of analysis of these components within climate-related research, policy and project design means that the major factors underpinning differentiated vulnerabilities faced by men and women in urban areas are ignored, thereby augmenting marginalisation and accentuating conditions of poverty among those hardest hit by climate change and disaster events.

Greater resilience to climate change will come about when all members of society are given equal opportunity to participate as agents rather than mere recipients in the decisions that affect their lives. For gender-sensitive projects, this requires a shift away from only focusing on women’s practical needs, moving towards addressing power and gender relations in families, communities, and institutions as well as political and economic decision-making processes. Strategies to tackle climate change need to be inclusive and participatory, and pay special attention to the principle of do no harm, tackle inequalities instead of maintaining them.

The crises brought about by a changing climate can, at times, be an opportunity to challenge the unjust status quo and promote gender equality. But this requires simultaneous action on all levels, and for those working in favour of gender-sensitive climate compatible development to link up efforts on the private, local, national, and global levels. 

Further resources


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Women are the most affected by climate-change related disasters since they are the ones that are directly involved in aspects such as crop cultivation, fire-wood collection, water-collection and are in most cases economically disadvantaged due to social inhibitions and therefore are hard hit by climate-related catastrophes. This is especially in sub-saharan Africa. Involving women in climate-change adaptation and management policies is certainly crucial for it helps to tailor interveintions to address the needs of the most vulnerable, which I think good practice is all about.

anna taylor profile pic 2019 - climate adaptation.

Hi Micheal, thanks for your comment! You raise an important point about the gender dimensions of climate change impacts and responses and the need to include a gender perspective when researching, designing and implementing climate-related projects. However, I don't think we should be too quick to jump to overarching conclusions like women are the most affected by climate-change related disasters always and everywhere. I think it is more complex than this and is quite context specific... Especially when it comes to urban settings. It is for this reason that we need to understand the gender dimension better. Have you done any work on women and climate impacts that you could share with us? It would be great to know more of the details. Kind regards, Anna