Adding a gender lens could expedite implementation of nature-based solutions
The devastating impacts of climate change are disproportionately experienced by women, as they face higher risks and greater burdens than men. Women’s unequal participation in decision making, economic exclusion, exploitation, marginalization and gender-based violence often act as barriers from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.
Nonetheless, women play a significant role in response to climate change due to their local knowledge and expertise in sustainable practices and resource management at the households and community levels. Moreover, women are recognized to ally with nature to adapt to climate change by harnessing the power of Nature-based Solutions (NbS). NbS are actions that protect, sustainably manage, and restore modified ecosystems, and address societal challenges.
NbS have been present for thousands of years now, and women’s traditional and indigenous knowledge tends to enhance existing nature-based solutions and practices (WfWP, 2018). Most of the time, women (particularly rural and indigenous women) are motivated to learn new methods that will integrate with old approaches.
NbS assists in the functioning of a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by construction and promotes greater resource productivity by targeting to reduce waste and avoid pollution, through reusing and recycling. Women support this.
For instance, a green entrepreneur in Chile, Maria de la Luz Barros has established a company, VerdeActivo, that installs green roofs. Green roofs are roofs that are attached with living plants. Maria utilized the mechanism of Ecosystem-based Adaptation, which is a nature-based solution method that uses biodiversity and ecosystem service to aid people to adapt to climate change.
Maria emphasizes that green roofs are NbS that can help in accomplishing Sustainable Development Goals and can be an effective climate change adaptation strategy in urban areas, as 88% of Chileans reside in cities (IIED, 2020).
As NbS has the dynamic attribute to improve livelihoods and contribute to land conservation and climate adaptation, it encourages poor communities to implement NbS more widely. Sarshen Scorgie perceives this phenomenon more often. She joined Conservation South Africa, an affiliate of Conservation International, to coordinate a partnership of NGOs working on climate change, and is currently working with farmers in the Namaqualand district of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province to restore dryland rangelands and water supplies and conserve biodiversity (IIED, 2020).
Looking at NbS with a multidisciplinary approach, and involving multiple stakeholders could aid to invest more in women and girls like Maria and Sarshen and lead to climate change adaptation.
Particularly, in small island developing states (SIDS) women are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Yet, many women take the lead to accelerate the implementation of the nature-based solution by arranging local and community-based solutions. For example, the Jamaica Environment Trust, initiated in 1991, by a group of female friends, conducts environmental education and advocacy programs to save Jamaica from the effects of climate change (Devex, 2020).
Other than that, the organization has assisted to gain protection for an area of wetlands in Jamaica through advocacy, safeguarding, and supervision of the Pedro Bank fish sanctuary and organized large-scale coastal cleanup events annually.
In Papua New Guinea, the Pari Women’s Development Association has guided successful mangrove reforestation efforts, protecting the greenhouse gases that are emitted from mangrove deforestation. The women in the association play a crucial role in executing the idea of mangroves protecting communities from flooding and rising sea levels. The organization has planted 500 seedlings by launching several awareness campaigns (Devex, 2020).
The impacts of climate change can be further worsened at the intersection of race and gender, thus impacting the lives of indigenous women differently. For instance, indigenous women in West Pokot, Marsabit and Narok counties of Kenya, are self-organizing and educating themselves to demand their land rights in their communities.
Women are aware that their contribution towards halting climate change and increasing resilience can be earned through securing their land rights. Women are planning the restoration of traditional food practices such as traditional seed varieties, rainwater harvesting to support farming and planting, conducting post-harvest preservation and storage, agroforestry with fruit trees and sustainable management of livestock pastures.
Without the full exercise of women’s rights, leadership and participation in decision-making there can be no meaningful progress in achieving sustainable development goals; and acceleration of obtaining benefits from the implementation of Nature-based Solutions.
Women and girls bear the burden of increasing climate-related disasters but are rarely in a position to influence change. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP25, only 21% of heads of the delegation were women (Data Hub UN Women, 2020).
Increasing women’s political status particularly, through representation in national government has a progressive effect on state environmental protection efforts. Therefore, acknowledging and realizing women and girls’ roles in protecting nature is a requisite to strategically expedite the implementation of nature-based solutions.
Uplifting women and girls can be a win-win situation for everyone, as they have practised nature-based solutions generation on generation, with little exposure to modern technologies and schooling. Hence, this is the right moment to harness the generation Equality campaign that “demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services that respond to their needs and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life” (UN Women, 2019).
Afsara Binte Mirza is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as a Junior Research Officer, her research interest lies in climate justice and gender equality. Can be reached at [email protected]