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Why gender matters when it comes to climate interventions

Aug 11, 2023 | Commentary, Democracy, Gender, First Person, Climate Change, Activism, Disaster, Environment, Feature

Written by Mary Delahunty

Governance, as a concept, has a branding issue – perhaps a bit boring?  A little like that person you avoid at party, preferring instead to hang out with the cool kids – Environmental and Social.

If only governance knew, it is everything.  Without the processes and systems we collectively call governance, there is no formal decision-making, no way to advance ideas, to protect rights, to provide laws.  Without governance there is chaos.

And that is likely why the recently released Women’s Charter for Change from the Women’s Climate Congress (WCC) lists Gender-balanced inclusive governance as its first action to secure the climate.

Gender-inclusive governance is a transformative approach that integrates gender perspectives and promotes equal participation of all genders in decision-making processes.

When it comes to climate change—a global challenge that affects us all, but not uniformly—such inclusivity is not merely an ethical imperative but a strategic one. Gender-inclusive policies and actions can significantly enhance the efficacy of climate interventions, driving both societal progress and environmental sustainability.

The WCC was formed in 2020 by 35 Canberran women in response to the Black Summer bushfires. Founder, Dr Janet Salisbury explained the drive for the group at recent Climate Conversations Session:

“Women could not stay silent when all around us was burning, but our party-political discourse was in gridlock with little action for almost two decades … over the past three years, we have spoken to thousands of women and from these conversations we have weaved a Women’s Charter for Change.”

To explore the first action from the Charter, Dr Salisbury together with climate emergency strategist Cheryl Durrant, Dr Gabrielle Kuiper, an energy sustainability and climate change professional and former adviser to Julia Gillard and Willow Berzin, Chief Assembler, the Coalition of Everyone, discussed the emerging concept of gender-balanced inclusive governance.

Mary Delahunty believes gender-inclusive policies and actions can significantly enhance the efficacy of climate interventions. Picture: Supplied

Mary Delahunty believes gender-inclusive policies and actions can significantly enhance the efficacy of climate interventions. Picture: Supplied

It’s a noble pursuit and certainly an obvious ask – can women have shared and equal participation in all forums developing action on climate change? Remove the focus on climate and this looks very much like every request of every feminist since the dawn of time.

However, action on climate change might just be able to make room for diverse voices for two reasons. Firstly, the systems and frameworks we will need to tackle such an existential challenge are new, indeed the central economic thesis for why we would tackle such a challenge is new.  Secondly, the effects of climate change are gendered.

Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities. Across the globe, women often bear the brunt of environmental changes due to socio-economic disparities and gender norms. In many societies, women are primarily responsible for water collection, food production, and household energy.

When droughts, floods, or storms strike, these duties become arduous, if not impossible. Ignoring women’s contributions can lead to incomplete and less effective solutions. Climate change doesn’t impact genders in isolation—it intersects with other identities like race, socio-economic background, and ethnicity. Acknowledging these intersections ensures that climate solutions are holistic and grounded in the realities of diverse communities.

The panellists in the Climate Conversations session linked the traditional governance structures centred on male dominance with the poor environmental outcomes the world is having to face into now.

I’m wondering, if the traditional structures were built in the pursuit of economic growth at all costs can an inclusive structure take its place when economic growth can no longer claim primacy over a habitable planet?

Wait a minute – is this … could it be … hope?

There’s no time to stop and think, as we forge ahead in our fight against the ravages of climate change, we must remember that inclusivity is not just a matter of justice; it is a pragmatic strategy that can amplify our efforts, making our world more resilient, equitable, and sustainable.

And it starts with governance, because everything does.

  • Picture at top is a stock image. 

Mary is the founder and Managing Director of Seven Advisory, helping companies progress with purpose and Impact.

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