Gender, Cities and Climate Change

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1.1.1. Cities and gender

The gender dimension of human settlements as an issue of research, advocacy and urban policy has a long history. The Habitat Agenda includes various provisions on gender, and the gender dimensions of the main issues related to human settlements have been addressed, such as urban poverty and gender, housing, land and property rights of women, water and sanitation,6 gender mainstreaming and the involvement of women in local government. The response of city networks includes guidebooks and commitments to gender equality in the city.

1.1.2. Cities and climate change

Cities have recognised their crucial role in climate change policy for the last 20 years or so, even before the UNFCCC was adopted by the international community. During the first half the 1990s, local governments started to take up the challenge, adopted commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, built networks, and started to implement climate policy at the local level. Except for a small number of publications, researchers took up the issue much later. Since then, substantial research on cities and climate change has been done, and their crucial role both for mitigation and adaptation is well acknowledged. It should be noted that the pioneers in this field were mainly cities from developed countries who were working on mitigation, while in developing countries climate policy at the city level is still an emerging issue and is mainly focused on adaptation.

1.1.3. Gender and climate change

While the gender and environment nexus in general has been an issue for many years, the climate change and gender nexus has only started to receive attention during the last decade. A number of publications have analysed the various connections, in particular the differentiated impacts of climate change, the absence of women in climate policy, but also the role women could play if fully involved. This emerging topic was pushed forward by 

women’s organisations and supported by development organisations that are familiar with the connection between gender and poverty, lack of access to energy and water, and other problems that are aggravated by the impacts of climate change.

As for vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, poverty plays a major role. Due to the living conditions of the poor, they are often more exposed to hazards, and have fewer options to avoid, or cope with, the impacts. As, according to UNDP, more than 70 per cent of the world’s poor are female, the share of women among the most vulnerable is dis- proportionably high. Moreover, there are additional factors indicating that vulnerability involves heavy gender differentials that need to be taken into consideration.  

Thus, all three linkages between climate change, gender and cities are well established and substantiated by practice and research findings. However, it has not yet been discussed how these three inter-linkages work together, and how cities and other players need to respond to the complexity of the whole picture. This paper is an attempt to take stock of existing knowledge, identify gaps, and produce preliminary recommendations to policy-makers at urban, national and international levels.

At the local level, a range of inequalities and injustices are directly apparent and tangible. In most cities around the world, the divide between the privileged and underprivileged is as large as the global divide between developed and least developed countries. While a small proportion of citizens claim the major share of land for housing, mobility and recreation, the majority of others are crowded together in slums. The size of the carbon footprints of different citizens ranges from very large to virtually zero. The poorest groups, such as slum dwellers, usually have the smallest carbon footprint, and, moreover, they often live in areas most exposed to climate hazards, such as landslide or flood prone areas.

These inequalities are related to income, class, age, race, ethnicity, health status, etc. Within all this inequalities, gender leads to a further differentiation, and in most cases, leads to different impacts of climate change on women and men. ‘Within low-income populations, women often have particular vulnerabilities as a result of gender-related inequalities’

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