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Women are on the frontline of the climate emergency

11 November 2021

Transformative policies are required to support their leadership, says Fionna Smyth

Christian Aid

Women draw water from a well in northern Kenya

Women draw water from a well in northern Kenya

IF THERE is one thing that should no longer be disputed, it is that the climate crisis is already making an impact on the lives of vulnerable communities around the world. Too many face losses and damage to their health, homes, lives, and livelihoods.

Take Kenya, for example. The rise in temperatures has made the ground drier still, leaving basic resources, such as water, pasture for livestock, and firewood, diminished. There are countless stories of this kind.

But what we do not hear often enough — even at COP26 in Glasgow — is the effect of the climate crisis on poverty and inequality. Indeed, from the local to the global, these fights are inextricably intertwined.

The lived experiences of women across the global South, gathered in Christian Aid’s new report Women on the Front Line: Healing the earth, seeking justice, demonstrate that climate changes are disproportionately affecting women and girls.

The Kenyan women’s-rights activist Sadia Isacko explains that, in Kenya, when husbands are hundreds of kilometres away, herding livestock, “every other responsibility is left for women. They don’t have access to milk, because the herds are away; they have to take care of children; they have to look for food.”

Women on the front line of the climate emergency are making important contributions, as environmental defenders, food producers, care-givers, entrepreneurs, and educators, among other things. Despite all this, however, the legacy of old colonial and economic systems means that women rarely are consulted or decide policy or practical approaches.


THIS is a critical year for both climate justice and for justice in the Covid-19 response. A dramatic overhaul of the old structures is essential, the report concludes.

Transformation is required, through policies that support women’s initiative and leadership and put them at the heart of a gender-just climate response. After all, people who are vulnerable to climate change know best what is needed in their specific contexts.

Christian Aid is, therefore, calling for 70 per cent of climate financing to target locally led responses, including ensuring that funding for loss and damage is matched to funding for adaptation and mitigation. As part of a further package of proposals, we are also urging leaders to redirect subsidies for fossil fuels to measures for gender equity and sustainability.

Why? Promoting locally led adaptation, getting renewable-energy policy right, and advancing genuinely nature-based solutions will mitigate effects of climate change and ensure that climate financing is more effective.

We are also seeing the success of more locally led adaptation initiatives, especially those run by organisations led by women which are addressing the practical and strategic needs of women and girls living in poverty.

In the Philippines, women in communities that are recovering from devastating typhoons are coming together to restore protective mangrove forests and marine habitats. In Bangladesh, women-led organisations are overcoming patriarchal norms that exclude women from decision-making, to contribute better to disaster preparedness and response, and to help others to manage risks.


CHRISTIAN AID’s experience of building resilience in the face of climate change has taught us that the challenge to progress is often more political than technical. It shows: progress towards the “loss and damage” strand of the Paris Agreement continues to be painfully slow, while the majority of climate finance for mitigation and adaptation is still directed to large-scale infrastructure and energy projects.

For COP26 to be a success, world leaders must listen to the very people whom this crisis affects most, and accelerate progress. World leaders must think about the women disproportionately affected by climate change and deploy their strengths, knowledge, and capabilities to create an effective climate response.

Fionna Smyth is Head of Global Advocacy and Policy for Christian Aid.

Read the report here

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