Climate security demands a gender lens for an equal future

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Interview with Giulia Caroli, Visiting Researcher at CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security by Nina de Ayala Parker.

This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose to Challenge’ in the lead up to the Global Generation Equality Forum, which seeks to realize women’s rights for an equal future by actively ensuring women have a seat at every table. So, let’s choose to challenge the status quo. How is ‘gender equality’ linked to climate security? And why does gender equality not only benefit women but all communities and all people? 

In this interview, I spoke to CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security Visiting Researcher Giulia Caroli, who is working on a project on the gender-climate-security nexus in order to unpick and amplify the importance of discussing and analyzing climate security through an intersectional gendered lens. 

We discussed all this and more, in recognition and celebration of International Women’s Day 2021. 

So Giulia, how is CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security striving to achieve gender equality?

We identified the need to put gender and gender equality at the forefront of our climate security research. And from there, we try to understand climate-related security risks through a gendered lens. Meaning we recognize in our work that the way women and men of different ages, ethnicities and classes experience and manage climate impacts and related security challenges are still not properly addressed both at the academic and policy level. So, from these policy and research gaps, we have created a research unit that focuses on the intersections of gender, climate and security, with two main objectives.

First, we fill in the research gaps by providing a better understanding of the intersectional gendered dimensions of climate-related security risks. Women and men experience and adapt to climate change in different ways. For example, women are generally more vulnerable to climate effects because of unequal access to resources and patriarchal cultural norms which inhibit their ability to take action and participate in decision-making at all levels. So, the main goal of our work is to provide evidence of how women and other traditionally disadvantageous groups are disproportionately affected by a wide range of security risks posed by climatic shocks.

Secondly, we explore how gender-responsive approaches aiming to reduce disparities and to empower women and other socially marginalized groups can enhance climate action and increase the prospects of durable peace. 

Can you explain how gender equality is interwoven through peace, climate and natural resources?

Gender equality is extremely relevant to achieving development, resilience and peace outcomes. How gender, peace, climate and natural resources are interlinked is what we want to emphasize with this particular project on the gender-climate-security nexus. If we look at the peace and conflict sphere, there is evidence that women’s full and meaningful participation in peace processes increases the prospects of sustainable and durable peace. In rural contexts, it is often women who have a strong relationship with the environment due to the high dependency on natural resources for livelihood, household and well-being. What’s more, because of the gendered division of labor, women in rural areas are also the primary providers of water and food. This means such women living in rural areas have a completely unique and indispensable environmental, local knowledge, which must be taken into consideration in climate resilience and peacebuilding programs. Especially if we consider that the root causes of conflict are often grounded in natural resources mismanagement and exploitation.

I must mention that women’s organizations have a key role to play at the local level. Only by linking peace, climate and natural resources can we achieve sustainable peace and strengthen community resilience. 

Exactly. Local knowledge, from the bottom up with a community-driven perspective is essential. Can you delve more into this, and the importance of recognizing the strong emotional understanding and connection to the environment, particularly for women in rural areas and how recognizing this can lead to system change.

Women’s active role as agents of change and their unrealized abilities to adapt are not recognized enough in policy and practice, which is why our work is particularly important as we are providing the evidence, and hope to fill the gaps and make up for this. 

Gender equality benefits all, so the focus is not just on women per se in that local community, but how the positive impacts of achieving gender equality benefit the whole community. Again, we must emphasize the importance of women’s organizations at the local level to push for the prospect of local peace. Notably, much of our work focuses on women in agriculture, women farmers, and recognizing that the rural and most marginalized communities are suffering the most from climate risks. Therefore, their understanding of climate and the risks should be integrated into all strands of climate plethora from research, to policy. 

Seeing as we are in the middle of a global pandemic, a global crisisin what ways does gender equality or inequality matter in times of crisis and security?

Gender inequalities are amplified in times of crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic is a striking example of this. The most vulnerable and the most marginalized, including women, LGBTQI+ communities, indigenous women, are a huge group of people who will be disproportionately impacted by these multiple shocks. So in order to overcome this, it is important to achieve economic growth and development outcomes, by applying an intersectional gender lens. Notably, ‘gender equality’ is Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) of the UN’s SDGs, and is absolutely crucial for enhancing community resilience to climate, for sustainable peace, and to overcome the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what we at CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security are trying to emphasize within our work, that assessing the climate security risks through an intersectional gendered lens is essential. 

So to come back to the overarching question, to what extent is climate security and research around it gender-inclusive?

Most of the research on climate security has been gender blind. Admittedly, climate security research is relatively new. So it only began 10 years ago in this regard, but in relation to gender inclusivity, the research has been blind for a long time, and most of the research on climate security investigates the linkages between climate variability and conflict onset. We must now focus more on gender equality and the inequalities. Most of the academic community has focused on the implications of climate change for conflict, now we must apply a human security approach to explore more holistic dimensions of insecurity that people and individuals experience as a result of climate, which are shaped by gender along with other social identity markers. Adopting a human security approach, means women’s lives and experiences are at the center of our analysis. 

Lastly, but definitely not least. Giulia, what does the UN’s theme ‘Generation Equality’ mean to you personally, and how is this reflected in CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security? 

How generation equality is reflected in our work? Well at CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security we have an incredibly gender-balanced team of women and men from different disciplines and backgrounds working in research, advocacy, and science. Uniquely, many of our colleagues are under 40 and trying to debunk any age discrimination. So regardless of your sex, age, and ethnicity, in a world of ‘Generation Equality’ you have the opportunity to freely express yourself and for everyone to have equal opportunities. In a world of ‘Generation Equality’, we would also be better equipped to tackle the climate crisis, and we’re definitely on our way there.  

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