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“Women Are More Vulnerable” – Marion Rolle on Gender and Climate Change

Marion Rolle; Foto: privatMarion Rolle; Photo: privateClimate change affects women to a much greater extent than men. As the coordinator of the “Gender CC - Women for Climate Justice” network Marion Rolle is committed to establishing gender justice in the field of climate politics. This is a discussion on differences and local solutions.

Ms. Rolle, why should climate change be approached at all from a female point of view?

It is above all poor people who are affected by climate change. People who have no infrastructure or resources at their disposal to help them adapt – and 70 per cent of the world’s poor are female. Women often have little or no access to income and resources, such as land and power, and also no participation in decision making processes. Due to the roles society has constructed for them they are responsible for such climate-sensitive domains as food, water and energy supplies. Barriers like meagre involvement in political decision-making, inadequate access to information and lack of education have led to women becoming more and more vulnerable, as well as to a limiting of their options for taking action.

What effects resulting from climate change do women particularly have to deal with?

As women are most commonly affected by poverty, every effect hits them hard - especially those that entail them paying out more money, like increased food prices caused by failed harvests. Even women in Germany, like single mothers, feel the crunch, too, as their financial resources are limited, too. Money is not the only problem. In Tanzania, for example, women are responsible for securing the family food supply. When the soil deteriorates and the rains do not come, they are the ones who have to work longer and harder to make sure their families get enough to eat. This in turn puts a huge strain on their health and reduces the amount of time they might have for other things like education or involvement in politics.

We need gender equality in the field of climate politics

A project in South Africa – solar cookers could be a local solution; © GenderCCWhat would have to be done to draw more attention to the needs of women?

What we need is gender equality in the field of climate politics both on a local level, as well as on a national and international level. This will only work, if people are made aware of the existing inequality, triggering a reaction that would motivate people to do something about it – among the people affected, among the perpetrators of climate change, among politicians and among non-governmental organisations. It is important however to find out in what ways women are differently affected from men, so that different measures can be taken to put an end to these inequalities – instead of exacerbating them.

What does that look like in concrete terms – for example, what has the GenderCC pilot project in South Africa been doing?

So far ten workshops have been held and the main objective was to make sure people were informed about climate change. Many people notice changes in their environment, but are not able to put it into context because they do not have the knowledge. In the workshops discussions take place on how climate change affects people’s everyday lives and what the differences are when it comes to the ways women and men are affected – no way can gender realties be changed without involving men. This then forms the basis for drawing up possible measures to be taken. It is all about empowerment, the people are encouraged to want and to be able to take action themselves and to organise their lives themselves, as well the political processes they are involved in.

What effects have these workshops had? The people develop solutions to their problems, they go back to their villages and pass on their knowledge. Furthermore the results arrived at in the workshops are then integrated into political processes – our regional coordinator is involved with workshop participants and other NGOs in developing national strategies.

Men tend to look for technological solutions

GenderCC Logo; © GenderCCDo women in fact then have a different approach to problems from men?

The differences start with the way climate damage is caused. Surveys have shown that men eat more meat and drive cars more than women, meaning that they consume more energy. Women in industrialised countries question their behaviour more and are more willing to change the way they behave, for example, eating less meat. They start by tackling the way they live, men tend to look for technological solutions. Politics is a male-oriented domain – that is why coal-fired power plants are simply fitted with filters, dams are built and CO² is to be disposed in the ocean.

In other words – the women’s point of view is neglected?

It is often the case that large-scale projects do not improve the situation on a local level, as there is a lack of infrastructure - above all in rural areas. For women the most important task is to make sure everybody is taken care of. Development aid projects have revealed that they tend to look for solutions in their immediate vicinity, maybe develop a compost to revitalise the soil rather than campaign for a big tractor. Ideally useful large-scale solutions and local ones ought to complement each other. Women and gender experts must be consulted so that all kinds of different ideas are included in the package of measures.

How open is climate policy to gender?

Compared to the first conference on climate we have achieved a lot, ten years ago nobody would have thought gender would play an important role when it came to climate change and its effects. On an international level there definite signs that gender is now being taken into consideration – especially in the context of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. Women’s groups and gender groups have now been officially recognised as observers, just like other NGOs. There is also a growing interest in gender-specific subjects that is beginning to be reflected in negotiating documents such as those on adaptation measures for climate change.


Only a handful of governments are prepared to really change anything. When it comes to actual measures being implemented they are particularly thin on the ground. On top of that gender, or women as the case may be, is not an issue when it comes to such important fields as finance, technology transfer and climate protection. The more decisions are taken, the fewer the number of women involved – just as the case is in companies, too. The percentage of women being members of government delegations is still less than 30 per cent, the share of female chief negotiators is even less – a mere 15 per cent. Lower down the list, for example, women taking part in climate conferences as members of NGOs, things become more even. In the end however it is still the heads of government who make the decisions.

Sonja Peteranderl
conducted the interview. She studied social and business communication, is a free-lance journalist with one of her main focuses on climate politics.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2010

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