This year’s Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum, held in Manila in October, gathered more than 1,000 participants who contributed to four days of thematic “deep dive” sessions, plenaries, panels and networking. The flagship event of the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN), opened with powerful calls for partnership between stakeholders and across sectors, involvement of the private sector, and the need to strengthen bottom-up approaches to adaptation that listen to and include the needs and capacities of local governments and communities. The buzz words for day two of the forum were “inclusivity” and “resilience for all”, while day three looked at applied knowledge for accelerated adaptation, innovative approaches and instruments for adaptation financing, sustainable energy, and the circular economy.
Inspired by the ethos behind the broader thematic stream of Resilience of human and social systems, and by the work of partners such as Philippines Climate Change Commission, the Asian Development Bank, UNEP, UN WOMEN and SEI Asia, one session of the forum zeroed-in on the urgency of prioritizing gender equality approaches into resilience building, while in others a gender perspective was underlined through specific presentations.
But how were the discussions addressing gender in climate change adaptation?
The session titled Economic Basis for Gender Mainstreaming in Adaptation Investment took an economic assessment approach by looking into existing evidence of economic efficiency of climate change adaptation projects that have integrated gender considerations. Others unpacked gender-based barriers and blind spots that continue to exist across the major pillars of international, national and local policy processes on adaptation and disaster risk reduction. This was the case in the Gender-responsive Approaches for Adaptation session that focused on displacement in the context of disaster and climate change. Philippines Senator Loren Legarda pointed out in her keynote address that climate impacts exacerbate “…already existing gender inequalities in relation to access to resources and opportunities, discrimination, threats to health, loss of livelihood, food insecurity, displacement, forced migration, poverty, human trafficking, gender-based violence and harassment.” Turning a blind eye to the underlying causes of disadvantage prevents us from addressing vulnerabilities and aggravates poverty and inequality.
Other presentations depicted gendered complex realities where women are more than just victims of climate change – in which complex economic, social and political factors overlap, rendering some more disadvantaged than others.
So how can these complexities be addressed?
Several strong voices at the event went beyond the common economic analysis of women’s inclusion in climate change adaptation initiatives. The calls were for contextualized but holistic, as well as cross-sectorial, actions and solutions. This scaled-up approach will address gendered vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and work to integrate gender equality into all aspects of climate action. My focus was on mobility and displacement, highlighting the need to strengthen the current migration model as an adaptation to protect women migrants’ rights, make migration safe and avoid cascading risks of disasters. SEI Asia Senior Research Fellow Bernadette P. Resurrección covered the demand for social protection as an immediate response and for sustainable livelihoods as a long-term strategy that considers mobility options or resettlements of different displaced women and men.
Though it was not thoroughly addressed across all sessions of the Forum, the voicing of these messages signalled climate change adaptation communities’ intention to take gender equality seriously. Several examples of recent successes were provided: Isabelle Louis of UN Environment described how they are equipping women’s groups experiencing climate change to prepare for displacement, among other adaptive measures. Emma Tiarree of Care International discussed their research in Vanuatu, where they found greater adaptation and reduced risk at a site that had a disaster risk reduction programme, compared with a site that did not.
However, as Senator Legarda reminded us, “We are conscious that adaptation efforts are taking place in unequal power contexts, and we should ensure that climate change adaptation does not exacerbate already existing gender inequalities, but instead find the best win-win opportunities to transform them.” The way forward will be to foster a consistent shift from a sturdily technocratic and managerial approach for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to one that places concerns with gendered social relations of power and inequalities in the disaster and climate change context at the centre of adaptation actions.