The Imperative of a Gendered Approach to Climate Change

Sep 19, 2023Case Studies, Climate & Environment, Gender Equality, Perspectives, Sectors

A multi-temporal perspective on vulnerability, resilience, and empowerment in Africa

Amidst the sprawling narrative of climate change, an essential facet often recedes into the backdrop: its gendered dimensions.

Climate change is more than just an environmental concern; it’s an amplifier of existing societal structures and disparities. In the vast and diverse expanse of Africa, this confluence of gender and climate has profound implications for vulnerability, resilience, and empowerment. From the immediate ramifications in sectors where women predominantly work, to the broader challenges and opportunities posed by the shift towards a sustainable green economy, and ultimately, to the envisioning of a world where women’s voices lead and shape the climate discourse — each temporal perspective reveals distinct challenges and pathways to empowerment.

In the short term, women’s vital roles in agriculture, artisanal mining, and market sectors expose them directly to the whims of an unpredictable climate, magnifying vulnerabilities. As we transition to the medium-term, the promise of a green economic transition looms large, but without proactive inclusion, women risk being sidelined in this transformative shift. By the long-term, opportunities emerge to not only address immediate impacts or structural changes, but instead to reimagine the very framework of climate governance through a gender-inclusive lens. Women should not merely be beneficiaries of climate policy, but its architects, driving innovation and holistic solutions.

This multi-temporal lens is not just a structure; it’s an imperative. To holistically address the gendered dimensions of climate change, it is vital to understand the intertwined challenges, risks, and opportunities across different time horizons.

Short-term challenges: The immediate gendered impact and African women at the frontline

In the vibrant tapestry of African economies, women emerge as the unspoken anchors, particularly in sectors that are now facing the brunt of climate change’s onslaught. Their daily endeavors, often rooted in the land and the environment, are directly threatened, translating environmental changes into immediate challenges for their households, communities, and, by extension, entire economies.

Agriculture: the lifestream of many, now under siege

In countries spanning from the Sahelian regions to the Great Rift Valley, agriculture stands as a testament to women’s resilience and ingenuity. A majority of the small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women,[1] and they are responsible for producing a significant portion of the continent’s food. However, with climate change disrupting rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts and unexpected floods are becoming annual calamities. These aren’t just climatic anomalies; for many women, they mean failed harvests, escalating debts, and nights when their children go to bed hungry. Beyond immediate food security, these impacts exacerbate already prevalent challenges: limited access to agricultural training, credit facilities, and advanced farming tools.

The bustling informal markets: Critical social infrastructure at risk

In numerous African cities, from the alleyways of Marrakech to the busy streets of Accra, the informal market sector buzzes with activity and is predominantly steered by women. These markets, vital for local economies, are incredibly sensitive to climate perturbations. A single flood can wash away a woman’s inventory, accumulated over months or even years. An unexpected heatwave can render perishable goods unsellable. Furthermore, climate-driven changes in market systems can negatively impact informal vendors’ ability to stay afloat, particularly if they don’t have access to formal financial services. For many women in these markets, there’s no safety net; a climate-induced setback can mean spiraling into debt or pushing their families further into poverty.

Artisanal and small-scale mining: vulnerable yet vital

Across Africa, women make up nearly half of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) workforce.[2] Often existing outside of the formal labor market, these women regularly operate under dangerous and uncertain conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable to both the economic and physical risks of climate change. Without access to skills, resourcing, and legal protections, female miners are disproportionately exposed to the financial and safety risks of an already dangerous profession. To make matters worse, the green transition will require significant increases in the precious metals like cobalt and lithium that fuel “green” technologies. Female miners will likely bear much of the burden of this increased demand.

In understanding the short-term ramifications of climate change through this gendered lens, we witness a theme: it’s not just about economic output or statistical figures but the lived experiences of countless women, the narratives of families under duress, and the ripple effects that shape communities and nations. Climate change and its consequences underscore long-standing socio-economic vulnerabilities—and addressing these immediate impacts is crucial, not just for the women affected, but also for the social fabric of the African continent.

Medium-term risks and potential: navigating the green transition – Paving the way for inclusive sustainability

The clarion call for a green, sustainable future resonates across continents, and Africa stands at a unique intersection of challenges and opportunities. However, the green transition is a uniquely double-edged sword: while the green economy offers vast potential, its dawn risks leaving women vulnerable to unintended hardships. This phase demands more than just economic adaptation; it requires a societal metamorphosis that champions inclusivity and equity at its core.

Emerging green industries: Doors half-open?

With the decline of traditional, resource-intensive industries, the green economy promises a myriad of new job opportunities. Sectors like renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and eco-tourism are burgeoning. However, this shift will also necessitate massive transitions within existing job markets, and without intentional interventions, women are likely to suffer the most from these transitions. As job markets change, studies suggest that gender attitudes drive economic inequities for women during times of financial hardship.[3]

Similarly, women are more likely to miss out on the opportunities afforded by the green transition: as jobs evolve, there’s an urgent need for training and reskilling programs. Yet, due to societal norms and logistical barriers, women may find it harder to access these programs. Whether it’s a solar technician course in a distant town or an online certification hindered by a lack of internet access, the challenge is dual-faceted: making green jobs accessible and ensuring women can access them. Overcoming this means not only creating green job openings but actively dismantling barriers that prevent women from seizing them.

Financial inclusion: more than just access

While the green transition promises innovative solutions, these often come with a price tag. Access to credit, loans, and financial literacy becomes crucial. Yet, many women often find themselves sidelined in the financial landscape. As green businesses emerge and sustainable projects are greenlit, ensuring women entrepreneurs and workers have the financial tools to engage becomes paramount.

Policy frameworks: From neutral to gender-responsive

As countries lay down the regulatory frameworks for the green transition, there’s a risk of these policies being gender-neutral, rather than gender-responsive. For the transition to be genuinely inclusive, policies need to be crafted with a conscious understanding of the unique challenges and potentials women bring to the table. This includes, but is not limited to, affirmative action, targeted grants for women-led green ventures, and mentorship programs.

In the medium term, as Africa navigates the intricate challenges of sustainability, the undercurrent remains: a green future that isn’t inclusive is a half-realized dream. The green transition is as much about technology and industries as it is about people—and ensuring that women are empowered participants, leaders, and beneficiaries in this journey is a non-negotiable.

Long-term opportunities: Amplifying women in climate leadership – the catalyst for holistic solutions

As we cast our gaze to the distant horizon of the climate struggle, the long-term view isn’t just about enduring resilience, but about nurturing a more inclusive vision of leadership in climate spaces. Historically, women’s voices have been relegated to the peripheries of climate decision-making, but the long-term combat against climate change necessitates their central role. For a challenge as vast and multifaceted as climate change, the solutions too must be interwoven with diverse insights, and women hold the keys to many of these nuanced understandings.

The multidimensional lens of women leaders

Women, with their multifaceted roles as informal leaders, community organizers, caregivers, and innovators, often have a deeply holistic understanding of societal ecosystems. Female leadership can help ensure that unintended consequences of climate initiatives, much like the green transition, are mitigated via awareness and understanding of local and community needs. When these insights percolate up to decision-making echelons, they ensure that climate policies are not just reactive but are anticipatory, comprehensive, and deeply empathetic.

Local knowledge, global impact

At the grassroots, women often serve as the custodians of traditional knowledge. This reservoir of wisdom, accumulated over generations, can offer invaluable insights into sustainable practices, resource management, and community resilience. As climate initiatives turn to time-honored and traditional practices for potential solutions, women may hold the key to successful implementation: by amplifying their voices, we ensure that local solutions don’t just benefit one community but can be scaled and adapted globally.

From tokenism to tangible change

For far too long, women’s representation in climate arenas has oscillated between neglect and tokenism. The future demands a shift. Beyond mere numbers, the emphasis should be on creating environments where women’s voices are actively sought, heard, and acted upon. This means challenging patriarchal structures, encouraging mentorship, and building capacity. It means both ensuring that women have the education and resources to engage with standard elements of climate work, while also embracing multifaceted, traditional, and holistic approaches to countering climate change.

The ripple effect of women in leadership

The benefits of women in leadership extend beyond the immediate decisions. When young girls see women shaping global climate agendas, it ignites aspirations. It sends a powerful message that they too can be changemakers. This cascading effect, where one generation of women leaders inspires the next, can galvanize a global movement of informed, passionate leaders in climate and beyond.

In the long arc of the climate narrative, the story isn’t complete without women leading the charge. As the challenges intensify, the solutions too must evolve, and therein lies the potential of women’s leadership. The future of climate action is not just about adaptation and mitigation, but about transformation—and women are poised to be at the heart of this revolution.

Weaving a tapestry of resilience and hope

The interplay between climate change and gender underscores not only pressing challenges but also unprecedented opportunities to sculpt a more inclusive and climate-resilient future. Through the lens of short-term, medium-term, and long-term perspectives, a holistic picture emerges, revealing the layered vulnerabilities and strengths of women in the epoch of climate change.

In the short term, recognizing the immediate gendered impacts, especially in sectors predominantly helmed by women, such as agriculture, provides the impetus for swift interventions. These immediate threats underscore the need to bolster women’s resilience, particularly in areas where their livelihoods and sustenance are intertwined with the environment.

As we navigate into the medium term, the global shift towards a sustainable green economy emerges as a double-edged sword. It carries the promise of revitalization and renewal but could inadvertently perpetuate gender inequities if not managed inclusively. This phase emphasizes not merely the adoption of sustainability but the integration of gender equity into the very blueprint of this transition.

In the long arc towards the future, the long-term perspective magnifies the critical importance of women’s leadership in climate discourse. It’s not about token representation but the profound transformative potential that women, with their diverse insights and holistic understanding, bring to the table.

This comprehensive narrative—spanning immediate actions, transitional strategies, and long-term leadership visions—reiterates the importance of gender-responsive approaches at every stage. As we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, the gender-climate nexus cannot be sidelined. By anchoring our strategies in a multi-temporal framework, stakeholders, be they governments, private entities, or civil society, can collaboratively weave a future where climate resilience and gender equity thrive in tandem. This intersectionality, spanning gender, climate, and broader societal domains like health, food systems, and well-being, mandates nuanced, integrated solutions.

Addressing the gender-climate interplay, especially in regions like Africa, is paramount in our shared journey towards a sustainable future. A multi-temporal approach, championing the immediate, the impending, and the visionary, promises not only resilience but empowerment—heralding a brighter, more equitable, and climate-resilient tomorrow.

The path forward: A call to action

Our journey to understand and address the intricate dance between gender and climate change is not at its end, but rather at an impactful juncture. The next steps we take can either bolster or erode the resilience and empowerment of African women, who stand on the frontline of the climate crisis.

The realities of African women, with their rich tapestry of experiences, cultures, and wisdom, must take center stage in future research. Beyond sterile data and detached observations, we must immerse ourselves in the lived narratives of these women. Their struggles and triumphs amidst the changing climate—whether it’s the farmer battling unpredictable rains in Kenya or the market vendor navigating the aftermath of a storm in Nigeria—hold invaluable lessons for policy design and implementation.

Informed policies are more than just responsive; they are anticipatory, sculpting a path that doesn’t just react to the challenges but paves the way for a brighter future. Such policies should champion the amplification of women’s agency, ensuring their voices aren’t merely heard, but resonate in the decisions that shape their world. In a gender-responsive path forward, all climate strategies must be evaluated through a gendered lens and should ensure access to education, training, and finances and representation in decision-making and leadership.

By fostering environments that support women’s leadership at community town halls, national platforms, and international climate summits, we can tap into the transformative potential that women bring to the table. Yet, the emphasis on African women doesn’t diminish the global nature of this narrative. The continent’s stories, while deeply rooted in its unique socio-cultural and environmental milieu, echo a universal testament to women’s roles as formidable change-makers in the climate narrative. Their resilience, innovations, and solutions can inspire and inform strategies worldwide.

As we look to the future, our vision must be twofold: to adapt to the changing climate while concurrently reshaping it, ensuring that the new world we’re forging has women not as passive participants but as active architects. The charge is clear: in the quest for a sustainable and equitable world, women’s empowerment isn’t just a desirable outcome—it’s a vital catalyst.


[1] FAO (2023)

[2] Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (2018)

[3] UN Women, The Levers of Change Gender Equality Attitudes Study (2022)

Dr. Chidiebere E.X. Ikejemba is the Director of Climate & Environment at Camber Collective. His body of work focuses on climate equity and justice, building resilient climate-smart development programs, strengthening political will for urgent climate change action and many other levers of activation. His theory of impact operates across both the upstream and downstream of a systems chain. that encompasses, just transition, agriculture & food security, migration, economic & rural development, climate education, waste management (circularity), healthcare, corruption and democracy, energy access, gender inclusion, carbon neutrality and other dimensions. The circularity of Camber’s approach and theory of influence is, we believe, the most congruous path to balancing economic reality and humanitarianism.  

Ella Geismar is a Consultant in our San Francisco office. She is a strategy consultant with experience in creating stakeholder-led, community-oriented programs and policies both domestically and abroad. Prior to joining Camber, Ella was a researcher and consultant on Hawai’i’s first ever state-level food systems strategy, an active initiative seeking to center resilience, equity, and indigenous knowledge into Hawai’i’s management of land and resources. In addition to her work in food systems and sustainability, Ella has worked extensively in higher education access. From 2018-2020, Ella served as the Programs Director at Parami University, a Bard College partner institution and Myanmar’s first-ever liberal arts institution. She also worked as a consultant for Fulbright University Vietnam, the first such institution in Vietnam, and as the Academic Associate for a network of dual-enrollment public high schools in cities across the United States seeking to promote college access and equity for underserved student populations. Ella holds a Master of Public Policy from the Goldman School at UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and French from Wesleyan University. In her free time, you can find Ella hiking, biking in the East Bay hills, and hunting down new food experiences