Recognising the gender dimensions of Loss and Damage

31 March 2023, Category: All insights, News, Tags: , , , , ,

By Irina Hauler

The 2022 UN climate change conference (COP27) will be remembered for agreeing on a fund for Loss & Damage (L&D). The establishment of the Fund was, for many, the highlight of COP27 and the culmination of decades of pressure from climate-vulnerable developing countries. 

The fund aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. How the fund and other Loss and Damage funding arrangements are to be operationalised is yet to be worked out, but one thing is clear – it will become a key part of the international climate agenda in the years to come. 

However, despite being most vulnerable to climate change impacts, the plight of women was not explicitly recognized at COP27. Even with clear research highlighting the significant and disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on girls and young women, and their contributions to addressing the crisis, gender was once again deprioritised and politicised during the conference. 

Ultimately, gender was only marginally mentioned, if at all, in the climate talks’ decisions and not at all mentioned in the announcement on Loss & Damage Fund. What can be done to rectify this exclusion?

Gender dimensions of loss and damage

In order to fully understand loss and damage, it is necessary to identify those most vulnerable to the severe impacts of climate change. Women continue to be affected disproportionately by poverty and face ongoing social, economic and political barriers to equality in all parts of the world. As one of the groups which are subsequently most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, women will experience considerable losses that cannot be addressed by adaptation or development efforts. These impacts relate to loss of life, health impacts, nutrition and migration, among other aspects. 

In terms of non-economic losses resulting from climate change, the unpaid labour of women in families and communities is often not taken into account by conventional approaches. Adopting a gender lens therefore allows for an assessment of loss and damage that is not only based on financial impacts, but which addresses other forms of traditional or non-economic contributions to society, knowledge systems, and culture.

There are a number of other factors that explain men and women’s differentiated vulnerability to climate change and disasters. Women experience unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, with limited mobility in rural areas. Similarly, socio-cultural norms can limit women from acquiring the information and skills necessary to escape or avoid hazards, e.g. swimming or climbing trees to escape rising water levels, accessing technology, and so on.

What can we do?

As loss and damage have differential impacts for both women and men, given the scenario, there is a need to build links with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, as the Sendai Framework particularly emphasises that:

Women and their participation are critical to effectively managing disaster risk and designing, resourcing and implementing gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction policies, plans, and programs; and adequate capacity-building measures need to be taken to empower women for preparedness as well as build their capacity for alternate livelihood means in post-disaster situations.

Therefore, the loss and damage assessments should include existing vulnerabilities and capacities specific to both women and men and at the same time consider the other vulnerable groups, such as  children, the disabled, and minority groups. Women representatives from disaster-affected communities need to be consulted.

In order to achieve these objectives, parties must consider broader concepts and objectives, as well as a full range of approaches and tools of L&D mechanisms that enable the synergies between gender dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. These synergies should be created within the loss and damage assessment, ensuring that there is adequate funding for loss and damage above and beyond adaptation.

Recommendations for loss and damage funding

Co-ordinated support is needed to prevent as much loss and damage as possible, in particular to ensure that risk management remains a priority, including with respect to provision of adequate and predictable finance. The following gender dimensions are relevant for the successful operationalization of the Loss & Damage Fund:

Ensuring women’s equitable participation in decision‐making and L&D activities

The conclusions on the Loss and Damage work programme within the UNFCCC have so far recognised the equitable participation of vulnerable persons, particularly women, in risk assessment processes. However, such participation needs to go beyond risk assessment and should be mainstreamed through every level of all L&D decision‐making processes. 

Equitable participation of vulnerable populations will allow those most impacted by loss and damage to be a part of decisions that help them to be more resilient to such impacts. The mandate for a L&D work programme includes engagement with stakeholders with relevant expertise but does not have a safeguard to include stakeholders of affected groups. In the L&D mechanism, affected groups, including women, should be prioritised for meaningful engagement and input at all levels. 

Assessing gender‐differentiated vulnerability and prioritised needs

Operational mechanisms of the Loss & Damage Fund should assess and prioritise the needs of vulnerable populations. Within this analysis, a division of labour, division of resources and needs must be assessed to determine differentiated vulnerabilities among men, women, boys and girls. Such data collection, assessments, and analyses must be carried out in countries most vulnerable to the impacts of loss and damage so that this knowledge base brings clarity towards addressing L&D. 

Integrating women’s particular vulnerability in the L&D accounting processes

An L&D mechanism is to be envisaged as an ongoing global effort, within which gender-responsiveness is necessary for an effective response. Constructive debates towards integrating women’s particular concerns in the L&D accounting processes will provide clear understanding on ‘deficits’ in adaptation (for delayed actions) and adaptation financing and consequent L&D needs, particularly in LDCs, SIDS, and vulnerable African countries, with particular focus on women. 

Providing gender‐sensitive training

Gender-sensitive training and education, and creating immediate and urgent actions to address L&D that are inclusive of vulnerable constituencies, particularly vulnerable women, will be crucial.

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