Youth blog: Climate Change and COVID-19: Two crises that threaten gender equality


Racha Zahira Ammati, gender and development consultant. Photo: Courtesy of Racha Zahira Ammati.

Racha Zahira Ammati is an international gender and development consultant from Morocco. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies and International Cooperation. She is currently finishing a PhD in Political Sciences, Public Administration, and International Relations. Ms. Ammati is a member of UN Women’s Gender Innovation Agora.

Rethinking the discourse on women and climate change

References to women in the gender and climate change literature are conspicuous by the way they frame women’s relationship with the environment as either vulnerable or virtuous. This perspective categorizes women into two groups: those in the Global South, vulnerable to climate change’s effects; and those in the Global North, virtuously pro-environmental in the face of their male counterparts’ polluting habits. Seema Arora-Jonsson (2011) further analyzes this generalisation, showing how these presumptions deflect attention away from power dynamics and disparities in institutions, amplifying women’s burdens.

Women and men’s relationships with the environment are diverse, reflecting factors such as class, age, entourage, etc. Acknowledging women’s differences and as a non-homogenous group, and challenging stereotypes around masculinity and femininity as they relate to the environment is a step forward when it comes to establishing measures to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

In addition to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a regression for gender equality and women’s rights, with violence against women and girls increasing globally during the lockdown measures. As an indicative example, under these circumstances, women migrant workers are carrying a heavier burden. Numerous forms of intersecting inequalities and discrimination are multiplied for them, such as migration policies with gender-specific constraints, unsafe labour conditions, racism, and xenophobia.

Two crises and women’s rights: how is scarcity of resources affecting them?

Climate change and COVID-19 pandemic have shown us why it is crucial to invest in local economies to make them resilient along with promoting the sustainability of livelihoods, both key to a comprehensive recovery. In fact, research shows that measures put in place to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 and Climate Change’s impact specifically on rural on women, have worsened gender disparities, putting at risk women’s engagement in economic activities. Women have been the worst hit by the economic impacts of the pandemic due to their predominance in lower-paid jobs and the informal economy. Moreover, as the primary caretakers in their families and communities, the current crisis has contributed to a significant increase in women’s care burden.

Likewise, the same tendencies prevail with regards to the effects of climate change. It is not news that climate change has gendered impacts, exacerbating gender inequalities and disproportionately affecting women, especially poor women. Women are typically left bearing the brunt of coping with climate shocks and its adverse health effects, amplifying their existing care burdens. Moreover, indigenous communities who may rely on natural resources for to live according to their cultural practices are seeing their rights, livelihoods and status being deteriorated.

Waste pickers, street vendors, and home-based workers—the majority of them women and whose environmental footprint is minimal compared with their counterparts in the formal economy—are at the forefront of climate mitigation through their actions to recycle waste, use less energy, and foster local markets. Nevertheless, they are among those most deeply affected by the two overlapping crises of COVID-19 and climate change. Reliance on climate-sensitive livelihoods means that women’s economic options are narrowing as the climate change crisis evolves. Gendered social norms are a barrier to women’s capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change and COVID-19.

Women’s struggles: facilitating change

Although several global norms and standards were adopted to promote gender equality and catalyze change in social institutional and legal frameworks, globally, there continues to exist a gender gap limiting the rights of women to own, use, and control land. Thus, women face barriers in their access to and utilization rights for renewable resources such as water, along with rights to extractive resources such as minerals, metals, timber, oil, and gas. Furthermore, women farmers’ agricultural productivity is usually lower in contrast to male farmers due to existing inequities that hinder women’s ability to access land and the agricultural means of production in the form of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.

In communities without access to regular clean water supply, women and girls tend to have the primary responsibility for managing a household’s energy, water, and sanitation. Where energy, water, and sanitation facilities are lacking, women and girls must devote much of their time to finding and collecting fuel and water. However, despite women using and managing natural resources, they still do not have an equal voice when it comes to decision-making.

Recommended actions

Both crises highlight the necessity of placing women’s agency at the center of the recovery efforts in both Climate Change mitigation and adaptation measures and COVID-19 crisis’ response, where women’s contributions are still underrated. Promoting women’s involvement and representation in these processes is a step towards improving their empowerment and leadership, this is why it is necessary to examine both crises through a comprehensive gender-perspective lens in each step towards the recovery efforts, at present progress is still far too slow.