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GWI DipNote

Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment strengthens our ability to combat climate change, helping us to reduce emissions and build resilience. In 2021, the U.S. government elevated the importance of simultaneously promoting gender equality and tackling the climate crisis in its first-ever U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality . Earlier this year, we put pen to paper to develop yet another first: the United States Strategy to Respond to the Effects of Climate Change on Women. Launched  on August 16, 2023, this new strategy complements other U.S. gender strategies and formalizes a two-pronged approach to policy, diplomacy, outreach, and programming that is grounded in both moral and strategic imperatives:

1. Addressing disproportionate impacts of the effects of climate change on women and girls
2. Empowering women and girls as leaders in addressing climate change

This strategy makes the United States one of a growing number of nations formally recognizing the inextricable links between gender equality and the climate crisis. It seeks to break down silos that too often have separated efforts to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls from those to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts. In doing so, the strategy illuminates how gender action and climate action go hand in hand.

First, the strategy identifies ways in which women and girls—the predominant managers of household food, water, and energy—are impacted by natural resource scarcity yet often excluded from climate and environmental decision-making. For example, women and girls in Latin America’s forested communities rely on forest products daily but tend to lack opportunities to weigh in on forest management decisions. Overcoming trends like these aligns with not only our new strategy, but also the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace and Security , with its focus on both women’s leadership and crisis response. Various U.S. government efforts seek to address these challenges, such as USAID’s Natural Infrastructure for Water Security activity—which empowers women leaders in the Peruvian water sector—or the State Department’s Central Africa Women’s Initiative for Climate Action—strengthening African women scientists’ capacity to contribute to emissions accounting and forest management.

Around the world, many women and girls are responsible for collecting, maintaining, or managing natural resources. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Second, the strategy outlines the significant negative impacts of climate stressors on women and girls. Take, for instance, the downstream effects of the 2016 water crisis on girls in Sierra Leone: girls responsible for collecting water departed their homes as early as 4:00 AM, not returning until late at night. Situations like these limit—and often eliminate—girls’ opportunity to attend school while also increasing their risk of experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). GBV incidents rise in numerous climate contexts, including in temporary shelters following natural disasters—a grim reality observed in the United States following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In line with both our new strategy and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to GBV Globally, the State Department’s Women Environmental Defenders in Southeast Asia program and USAID’s Resilient, Inclusive, and Sustainable Environments Challenge , among others, seek to tackle GBV in climate-related sectors and environmental protection efforts.

Third, the strategy recognizes opportunities for women and girls as climate innovators and entrepreneurs, including in the green and blue economies and all sectors intersecting with the climate crisis. Consider how women comprise the majority of agricultural workers in many countries facing severe climate impacts—such as numerous Pacific Island nations—while in Europe, women’s access to efficient energy services is critical to supporting their micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises. These realities are reflected in our new strategy and the U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security. U.S. efforts helping women capitalize on climate-smart economic opportunities range from the State Department’s Female Leaders in Energy project (supporting the professional development of women energy leaders in East Asia and the Pacific) to USAID’s Climate Gender Equity Fund (increasing access to climate finance for women-led organizations and businesses that drive climate action).

Women are overrepresented as workers in many industries that have a direct impact on or are directly impacted by climate change, such as the garment industry. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Globally, we know that women’s and girls’ frequent and direct interactions with the environment make them a natural “early warning system”; they are often the first to observe climate impacts. At the same time, their relationships with families and communities help them develop locally appropriate and acceptable solutions. As such, the U.S. Strategy to Respond to the Effects of Climate Change on Women also points out the importance of amplifying effective women- and girl-led efforts, including through initiatives like the Innovation Station in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Developing the strategy was a whole-of-government effort that involved 14 U.S. government agencies and the White House. The strategy’s appendix includes more than 80 relevant activities from the State Department, USAID, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Development Finance Corporation, Millennium Challenge Corporation, NASA, USDA, and the White House.

While we’ve made significant progress related to the nexus of gender equality and the climate crisis, the U.S. Strategy to Respond to the Effects of Climate Change on Women will deepen our collective action moving forward. And as we continue this work—because there’s still much work to be done—we’re proud to report that, within the U.S. government, the former silos of gender equality and climate action have been broken, and we’ll all be better off because of it.

Aubrey R. Paris, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Advisor for Gender, Climate Change, and Innovation in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI). Dr. Paris received her Ph.D. in Chemistry and Materials Science from Princeton University and B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from Ursinus College.

U.S. Department of State

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