Global commitment growing for gender equality in climate action

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Rice farmers work on Indonesian peatlands. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Researchers are backing the development of a gender-responsive policy for the Green Climate Fund.

Climate change may affect everyone, but not always equally. Women — especially those living in poor, rural communities — often face additional burdens.

“Generally, you see that women have weaker land rights, they usually have less input in determining how natural resources are managed or how income is spent. These types of inequalities play a big role in determining how different groups experience climate change,” says the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s Markus Ihalainen, research officer at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

One example is in Northern Mali, where researchers found that due to increasingly frequent droughts, men decided to leave their homes and seek work elsewhere. Women were left behind to deal with not only the changing climate, but the work men would normally do in their village. Their capacity to adapt was further hampered by a lack of secure tenure and command of financial resources.

Addressing issues such as these is at the core of efforts to introduce and improve gender policies in climate initiatives. At the recent COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, a UNFCCC Gender Action Plan was agreed on that supports women’s participation in climate action and promotes gender equality in the process.

Read more: FTA at COP23


For gender equality advocates, another process of interest is the ongoing review and update of the Green Climate Fund’s gender policy and action plan.

The GCF was the first multilateral climate fund to include gender considerations in its operations from the offset, and in 2015 it adopted a gender policy and action plan. The three-year policy and action plan is due to be revised next year.

Earlier this year, the GCF called for inputs to the review and update of the gender policy, and at the moment, a consultation copy of the new Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy and Action Plan 2018-2020 is circulated for another round of inputs.

This draft summarizes the intent of the GCF Secretariat to more effectively and strategically address gender equality, and incorporates a number of recommendations from various stakeholders, including CIFOR.

“The new draft policy document signals a more robust commitment and approach to gender equality, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Of course, the document is still open for revisions and it will need to be approved by the Board, so we will have to wait and see what the final version looks like,” says Ihalainen.

He points out that the GCF is one of the main financial instruments supporting the implementation of the Paris Agreement. As the agreement failed to incorporate language on gender in many key articles, including those on mitigation, finance and technology, a strong GCF gender policy could help mitigate some of those shortfalls.

An elderly woman sits on the terrace of her home in Nalma Village, Lamjung, Nepal. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

With respect to addressing gender equality in climate policy and action, Ihalainen says there often is a disconnect on many levels. He says that even when there are policies in place, there are guidelines that aren’t mandatory or being monitored, or there can be a lack of capacity in assessing the gender components.

In their submission to the GCF, the researchers argued that despite a clear global mandate to address gender issues in climate policy and action, these tend to get sidelined or watered down at national or program level.

“Too often the gender aspect is seen as an add-on and not something that needs to be considered from the outset and integrated into each phase of the project,” Ihalainen adds.

Read more: An explanation of Green Climate Fund payments


The current GCF gender policy adopts a ‘gender sensitive’ approach. This is commonly understood as being attentive to, or aware of, gender differences. But the researchers say a ‘gender responsive’ approach will have a far better outcome.

“Being gender responsive is about trying to understand and actively challenge unequal roles that are at the core of those differences — not just being mindful of the differences, but actually doing something to transform them,” says Ihalainen.

“To achieve this, the new policy needs to not only safeguard but advance women’s rights,” he says.

The research team says the new gender policy should also aim to minimize gender-related risks and safeguard women’s rights in all aspects of climate change action.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a standalone goal (SDG 5) on gender equality and women’s empowerment. It includes a number of targets addressing underlying facets of gender equality, including full and effective participation, equal rights to productive resources, and unpaid care and domestic work.

The researchers say aligning the updated gender policy with the SDGs — and SDG 5 in particular — will allow for a more heavily rights-based framework for addressing gender equality in climate action. It would also allow for a more comprehensive set of targets and progress indicators that can be used to assess the Fund’s contribution to gender equality.

Ihalainen says now is the time to take action. He points to a recent analysis of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in which countries publicly outlined what post-2020 climate actions they intended to take under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The study shows that only 40 percent of these actions included any reference to gender or women, and most of were very generic, and were justified on the grounds that women belong to vulnerable populations.

The team says projects funded by the GCF need to clearly show how they will address gender inequalities through climate action. This will require both identifying and safeguarding against gender-related risks, as well as leveraging potential synergies between gender equality and mitigation/adaptation outcomes.

It is vital, they say, that National Designated Authorities and Accredited Entities, as well as Implementing Entities, have gender experts onboard and a budget to support gender activities. After all, a policy is only as strong as its implementation.

“It is critical that we have proper transparency in how different agencies address this issue, proper monitoring of these indicators and a clear understanding of the responsibilities and accountabilities of the different actors,” says Ihalainen.

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

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