Does climate change need a sex change?
by Zvi Oduba
NASA recently produced a report in which it discovered that the first six months of 2016 was the Earths hottest first six months of any year in terms of average temperature since records began in 1880. But don’t take NASA’s word for it that climate change is happening – the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the UK Government, the latter of which says that “climate change is happening and is due to human activity”, are in agreement that climate change is one of the key topics of debate today.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that ‘climate change is happening’, the study of the environment within the social sciences, in particular sociology, has exposed a ‘strange silence’ (Lever-Tracy, 2008, p. 45) in the little notice sociology has given to the environment – let alone climate change. Moreover there is a ‘stranger silence’ still, as MacGregor (2010) puts it in an article published in The Sociological Review, on the sheer lack of studies, articles, research and integration when it comes to women and climate change.
Therefore, a number of examples will be presented that show how the research, effects and solutions of climate change studies need to incorporate a more gendered analysis.
The study of climate change has been dominated by men in all fields of research – scientists, economists, politicians, nation representatives and even spokespeople – have mostly been predominantly male. The leading panel on the subject, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is made up of virtually all men and is chaired by South Korean Hoesung Lee. Dankelman (2002) further suggests that the discourse on climate change currently serves issues in gender-specific ways.
In a recent interview with CBS, Barack Obama asserted his belief that climate change was a bigger threat to humanity than terrorism. This followed the consensus of the 1990’s belief of the defence ministries (a mainly male dominated field) that the issues that climate change might bring to civilization are to be dealt with using methods of military (another male dominant field) mobilization and response. This ‘masculinization’ response to climate change has left women alienated and underrepresented in its research and response.
As a result, it might not come as a surprise that some surveys suggest, simply, that ‘…men are better informed about climate change science than women’ (Hargreaves et al 2003). But the most alarming of all is that it is actually women that will feel the impacts of climate change more than men – as a UN argues in a fact sheet that their social, political and economic capacity to cope is lower of that of men.
Therefore, the most politically, socially and economically marginalized groups within society will feel the effects of climate change the most – the poor will be severely affected. But just to homogenize the ‘poor’ together as one group would be irresponsible as 70% of the world’s poor are women; resulting in greater exposure to climate change related risks.
Research by Nelson (2002) suggests that poor women are more likely to be hurt than men in extreme weather events due to their poor capacity to cope in relation to men. The effects are even more recognizable for women in the developing world. With most women in the developing world responsible for the daily duties surrounding family life and the home, climate change would add strain to daily activities if climate related events, such as droughts for example, affect these populations. Finding clean water, a good source of firewood and keeping regular crop patterns will become increasingly difficult.
In the developed world, such as the UK, women may play a more important part in helping reducing contributions to carbon emissions than what the current male-dominated discourse suggests. With research from the British Social Attitudes Survey still suggesting that women spend more time doing housework and caring for family members than men – roles that include the use of domestic appliances, transport and consumption choice and thus carbon emissions – would it not be in the policy makers best interest to have women at the centre point of their work when considering how to reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions?
In short, the current discussion for climate change within the social sciences is limited and when studying climate change at national and global levels, the research is heavily gender blind. The assortment of recent research into climate change shows that women are under represented in its study. As it becomes more apparent the effects of climate change will be felt more by women, in particular in the Global South, there should be more representation by women on decision-making policies. Even in the developed world, women still play a crucial role in consumption choice and perhaps in the solution to reducing carbon emissions from the home. Anyhow, there is an urgent need for a more gender analysis of climate change in order for its study, effects, and solutions to be more appropriate to the continuing global gender inequalities.
Dankleman, I., (2002), Climate change: learning from gender analysis and women’s experience of organizing for sustainable development, Gender and Development 10 (2): 21–29.
Hargreaves, I., Lewis, J. and Speers, T., (2003), Towards a Better Map: Science, the Public and the Media. Economic and Social Research Council, Swindon, UK.
Lever-Tracy, C., (2008), Global warming and sociology, Current Sociology 56 (3)
MacGregor, S,. (2010) A Stranger Silence Still: The Need for Feminist Social Research on Climate Change ,The Sociological Review, Vol 57, p.124 – 140
Nelson, V., Meadows, K., Cannon, T., Morton, J. and Martin, A., (2002), Uncertain predictions, invisible impacts, and the need to mainstream gender in climate change adaptations, Gender and Development 10 (2)
Peterson, V. S. and Runyan, A. S., (1999), Global Gender Issues, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.