by Nina Somera, Isis International

Copenhagen, Denmark – (11 December 2009) While climate change is usually associated with the industries in urban areas, cities are also gendered sites that experience the negative impacts of climate change.

Although the expansion of cities indicates growth in incomes and opportunities, it also means hosting more and more people who live below the poverty line. In most cases, such expansion facilitates greater greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time, greater vulnerability to the population, especially women in the more marginalised sectors. This, as cities have a range of spectrum where at one end are the industrial elites and on the other end, the working poor. As Gotelind Alber of Gender CC described,

“The carbon footprint variability [in the cities] is extremely high. Slumdwellers are usually close to zero footprint but overconsumption also happens. The North-South divide happens within the city itself, between rich and the poor.”

In her study on some European cities, male single-person households tend to have a larger footprint by nine to 40 per cent across all age and income groups. Meanwhile, women are likely to bear the brunt of any form of scarcity and disaster that happens in urban areas as they are expected to provide food, water and other needs for their families. Women are also concentrated in the informal sector, where their productive labour is less valued.

Despite these, urban planning including energy, transport and construction remains a domain of men, with limited women’s participation in decision-making processes. According to Alber, women only constitute 30 per cent, at the most of executive positions in urban climate policy.

“When we look at gender, we can see the real needs. If we want to build resilient communities, we need to take women’s special needs into account,” she asserted.

Cecilia Njenga of United Nations Human Settlement Programme likewise said, “We are bombarded by scientific information before bringing up gender information but gender lens need to be at the front.

We need to understand how the identities of women and men determine different vulnerabilities and capacities to deal with climate change.”

Women have more transportation and safety requirements. Women are also the first to be affected in times of droughts, flooding and other changes in the environment, owing to their dependence on natural resources for the basic needs of their families. Women in Uganda, for example, relies on wood and charcoal by as much as 80 per cent.

Njenge also pointed out the disconnection among local, national and global policies on adaptation and mitigation, stressing that women must be part of these critical issues that are hardly “solved by large international funding flows.” Women have much to contribute on water management, household energy, urban transport and health issues among many others.

Njenge also clarified that the expansion of cities can be attributed more to natural population growth, rather than migration. By 2030, it is expected that 60 per cent of the global population will be in the urban area. Some two billion people are expected to live in slums.

It is thus recommended that that a gender dimension is surfaced in any climate policy processes in urban areas, beginning with sex-disaggregated data. But a more significant change is in order, one that targets our own sense of social reproduction.

As Kathleen Maltzahn said, “The way we treat the earth has the same dynamics with what we have with with women. We take and take. But there is nothing free in what we are taking from the community.”

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