KASAMA Vol. 22 No. 2 / April-May-June 2008 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network


The Third Global Congress of Women in Politics and Governance
Focus on Gender in Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction

October 19-22, 2008, Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines
Organized by the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP)
in partnership with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN/ISDR)

Conference background paper - extracts:

Climate change is THE 21st century crisis. According to the United Nations Human Development Report “it is still a preventable crisis. The world is now at or near the warmest level on record in the current interglacial period, which began 12,000 years ago. There is strong evidence that the process is accelerating.”[1]

The urgency of climate change was underscored by Faith Birol, the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency: “Without serious policy shifts, we may be heading toward the double crisis of energy insecurity and climate change… The macroeconomics is clear, with prevention now costing a good deal less than adaptation later: 1% of GDP if we act now and 5-20% if we wait. …We must treat the earth as if we intended to stay…”[2] The world has less than a decade to change its course.

Today, on average, one person out of 19 in a developing country will be hit by a climate disaster, compared to 1 out of 1,500 in an OECD country. Climate change creates life time traps: in Niger, a child born during a drought is 72 percent more likely to be stunted than a child born during a normal season.

“The direct economic cost of disasters is on the rise, recently costing $7.5 billion to China due to snowstorms, and $12.5 billion to Japan from one earthquake in 2007, and $5.5 billion to Germany from the windstorm Kyrill. Moreover, the indirect economic cost is usually more than that of direct economic cost. The political costs of neglecting substantive disaster reduction and management policies are also becoming increasingly clear. Public confidence in all levels of the United States government dropped in 2005 after perceived inadequacies of the government’s preparedness for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and in reaction to the inequalities the Hurricane revealed. Meanwhile, approval ratings of President Alan García of Peru rose five points on public perception of effective government disaster management immediately after the Peruvian earthquake of 2007.”[3]

Increased exposure to drought, to more intense storms, to floods and environmental stress is holding back the efforts of the world’s poor to build a better life for themselves and their children. In short, climate change would stall and reverse progress in human development, including cutting down extreme poverty, health, education, nutrition.

Global discussions on climate change have attempted to sketch a road map for coping with climate change. Actions must include: how to stop and reverse further global warming so that greenhouse gas emissions must fall to avoid rise in temperatures over 2 degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels; how to live with the degree of global warming that cannot be stopped and how to design a new model for human progress and development that is climate proof and climate friendly and gives everyone a fair share of the natural resources on which we depend.[4]

In other words, coping efforts must include:

1) preparedness and disaster risk reduction and building community resilience; 2) adaptation; and 3) mitigation.

Why gender in climate change and disaster risk reduction?

“Development that is not engendered is endangered.”

Disaster risk reduction is about reducing social vulnerabilities. To be effective, men and women should participate in decision-making processes with regards to preparedness and disaster risk reductions. If women are left out it can be a problem. Incorporating gender in disaster risk reduction strategies, programs and policies is a way of promoting sustainable development in communities.

The Gender and Climate Change website states: “Climate change is not a neutral process; first of all, women are in general more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, not least because they represent the majority of the world’s poor and because they are more than proportionally dependent on natural resources that are threatened. The technological change and instruments that are being proposed to mitigate carbon emissions, which are implicitly presented as gender-neutral, are in fact quite gender biased and may negatively affect women or bypass them.

The negotiation process tends to be driven by a masculine view of the problem and its solutions. Participation of women in the whole process, at international, national and local levels, is very low, both in the South and in the North; probably skills and resources need to be developed to overcome this.

Gender, like poverty, is a cross cutting issue in climate change and needs to be recognized as such. In fact, gender and poverty are interrelated and create mutually reinforcing barriers to social change. There is a need to be strident to overcome the uninformed view of many involved in climate change that climate change is neutral, and real life examples are needed to make the alternative case clear and convincing.” (Gender and Climate Change web site:

For example, women comprised the majority of those killed and who were least likely to recover in the 2005 Asian Tsunami. In Aceh, more than 75 percent of those who died were women, resulting in a male-female ratio of 3:1 among the survivors. As so many mothers died, there have been major consequences with respect to infant mortality, early marriage of girls, neglect of girls’ education, sexual assault, trafficking in women, and prostitution. (In Gender aspects of climate change, Gender and Disaster Network, 2005).

If action on climate change is partly about reducing vulnerability and building resilience, then it is important that vulnerable groups do not suffer disproportionately from its adverse effects. Women figure among such vulnerable groups. (Point de vue, Bulletin African Bioressources, Oct 2001)

Women and environment experts have raised concern over the absence of women in the discourse and debate on climate change, a global mainstream issue that is currently impacting the entire world.

A document from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development states: “An overall assessment of the climate change debate to date shows women are patently absent in the decision-making process. Their contributions in environmental policies are largely ignored. Decision-making and policy formulation at environmental levels such as conservation, protection and rehabilitation, and environmental management are predominantly male agenda. The climate change debate is an indicator of how gender issues tend to be omitted, leaving room for complex market-driven notions equated in terms of emission reductions, fungibility and flexible mechanisms.”

Nevertheless, in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development reflected in Agenda 21, one notes the key role ascribed to women as principle actors in the management of natural resources and the development of sustainable and ecologically sound policies. Perhaps the fact that there are few trained women environmental specialists tends to accentuate this gender deficit in environmental policy. Institutional weakness in women’s organizations and under-representation in formal decision-making are factors that tend to swing the pendulum away from their oft-valuable input.”

The involvement of women in areas of environmental management and governance should not be perceived as an afterthought. Women’s roles are of considerable importance in the promotion of environmental ethics. Their efforts in waste management through recycling and re-use of resources are an indication of the extent of their significant input to community development. Women in rural areas, due to their daily contact with the natural habitat for the provision of food, fodder and wood, tend to have sound ecological knowledge that could be useful in environmental planning and governance.

For example, during a drought in the small islands of the Federal States of Micronesia, it was local women, knowledgeable about island hydrology as a result of land-based work, who were able to find potable water by digging a new well that reached the freshwater lens. (In Gender aspects of climate change, Gender and Disaster Network, 2005)

Also, there is an urgent need for political leaders and legislators to commit to creating an enabling environment for responding to climate change and to address disaster risk reduction at a national and international level. More and more politicians and legislators have shown growing interest in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, but much of this has been concentrated in Europe. It is vitally important to extend the dialogue, and to involve legislators from different regions, especially those most vulnerable to the impact of disasters and climate change.[5]

Preparedness and disaster risk reduction is about building individual and community capacities to position themselves and their communities so that the likelihood of climate change-induced disasters is reduced; the intensity or adverse impacts of disasters are cushioned and that inhabitants are able to respond promptly, expeditiously and effectively. Adaptation entails actions that moderate harm, or exploit benefits, of climate change. Mitigation entails actions that minimizes or cushions the adverse impacts of climate change.

In all of these actions, special attention will be given to defining how women and gender could be mainstreamed. In other words, the Congress should define how women can be given the social space to participate, influence, and benefit from global and local responses to climate change and disaster risk reduction programs, policies and strategies.

Proposed Plenary Papers


[1] “Climate Change and Future Scenarios.” Human Development Report, 2007/2008:31.
[2] “Managing Climate Change: Doing Everything Everywhere For a Very Long Time.” Sustain. Issue 28, July 2007:2.
[3] The First Consultative Meeting of Parliamentarians for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, 21-23 April 2008, Manila, the Philippines, Concept Note, International Society for Disaster Reduction, 2008.
[4] Hannah Reid and Andrew Simms.”Climate Change and Development Challenges in Asia.” Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), 2008:16.
[5] The First Consultative Meeting of Parliamentarians for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, 21-23 April 2008, Manila, Philippines, Concept Note, International Society for Disaster Reduction, 2008.


Center for Asia Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP)
4227-4229 Tomas Claudio Street,
Baclaran, Parañaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines,
Tel: (632)8516934
Tele Fax:(632) 8522112
Mobile Phone: +639184596603

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