• iCS - Climate and Society

Climate change: female subject?

By Andréia Coutinho Louback


In the last month, a graphic art with an intriguing question has been circulating with dozens of shares on the social media of the the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS), Climate Observatory (OC), Forest and Agricultural Management and Certification Institute (Imaflora) and others organizations. Climate change: female subject? The question was the starting point for the first virtual public debate – organized by the OC and Imaflora –, which discussed the impact of gender on the climate variations in Brazil and around the world.


Why gender and climate?

The climate agenda is permeated by intersectionalities that highlight the complexity of the debate. Therefore, we will not be able to move forward with systemic transformations in the climate agenda, while the awareness of gender and race does not become a structural link in the decision-making, representative and participatory power.


In view of the infinite possibilities in exploring the subject, the first public debate of the work group of the Climate Observatory brought the issue to light when holding the first webinar on May 6. The online meeting involved approximately 250 participants and was attended by Alice Amorim, a lawyer with a degree from UERJ, a master’s degree in Political Economy of Late Development, at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), and coordinator of the portfolio of climate policy and outreach at the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS); Gabriela Couto, a graduate in Biological Sciences and master’s degree in Environmental Science at USP, and a doctoral student and researcher at INPE-CCST; and Sarah Marques, a community leader, with a scholarship from the Baobá Fund, a member of the collective Caranguejo Tabaiares Resiste and the Popular Center for Human Rights (CPDH). The discussion was mediated by Karina Penha, a biologist from Maranhão and a climate activist from the NGO Engajamundo, who was part of the official delegations at the 22nd, 24th and 25th UN Climate Conferences.

Topics covered

The webinar program sought to understand the different realities already experiencing the effects of climate change in urban peripheries and rural environments, in addition to everything that has been the object of study in research institutions. The objective of each presentation was to prioritize examples from the practice to the theory, from the global to the local, in order to inspire and arouse new concerns in the audience.


The first presentation provided an overview of the Gender Action Plan, taking as a starting point the perspectives of the gender agenda on the global level. Alice began her speech by showing a photograph of the last day of COP 21, shortly after the signing of the Paris Agreement.


The image clearly indicates the chasm between the representation of men and women. “The disproportion is very large. This is an important element for people to think about two things: 1) if this climate field is wanting to talk about gender, what type of experience and reflection does it bring to this agenda? 2) and who is the object of this agenda?” she asks.


According to Alice, the Gender Action Plan deals with several aspects, but also with representation. The report made by the climate convention addressed the different impacts of the climate agenda on women and on men and how the gender dimensions were considered in different policies - in addition to the question of representativeness. In her speech, she quoted and highlighted the following paragraph from the document:


"Although all the parties have recognized the importance of gender balance in their respective climate delegations and have monitored it in some sphere, neither party nor observer organizations have provided information about policies or processes that are being implemented to resolve this problem," she quotes and questions by stating that - even though it concerns a global and relatively new agenda - we are at a time of thinking about and recognizing the importance of the subject. However, there is still a long way to go to make the discussion (and the actions) more specific.

Then, the researcher Gabriela introduced a contextualization of how environmental disasters fit into the discussion about gender. Based on data and evidence, she structured her presentation along the following lines: I) how does science understand the concept of disasters? II) gender as an important analytical category to look at the differential vulnerabilities of disasters; and III) her doctoral research, which analyzes Brazilian disasters from the viewpoint of gender in Brazil, showing how the impacts are felt unequally and that disasters go beyond the events and forces of nature, as pre-conditions of society.


The research, still underway, identifies and recognizes the characteristics of gender, age, year of maturity, location and reason for the death of victims of disasters. Gabriela recalled that, historically, research on disasters was built from a male perspective. “Men carried the category of heroes, saviors and decision makers who defended the women. Therefore, they became the central object of the research and the research questions ended up focusing on the role of the male with respect to disasters. However, some events - that happened over space and time – introduced data that has made science rethink this focus. For example, in 1991, Bangladesh recorded a 91% mortality rate for women in the cyclone that passed through the country. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, a 70% mortality rate for women was recorded. So, science can no longer ignore the importance of looking to the group of women where the mortality rate of disasters is concerned,” she argued.


Finally, the third speaker, Sarah, closed the cycle of presentations with her territorial experience and the struggle of the collective Caranguejo Tabaiares Resiste. The collective was founded two years ago when, in a conflict, the municipal government of Recife tried to remove 76 houses from a centennial community to build highways and give access to buildings on the river bank. The argument used was that of cleaning the most important channel in the city, which divides the community - on one side is Caranguejo e Tabaiares.



“That was how the collective was born, a place where we work with training and popular education. We have cinema round-tables, meetings and many conversations with the population of Caranguejo to show and make people understand that our roots are here, that we landed on this ground and that this ground is ours,” explained Sarah. The activist pointed out that Recife is not urbanized, especially from the perspective of the black population. The water that passes through the channel is not treated; it is sewage. Furthermore, in this vision of community, it is necessary to consider the profile of black women. No science, no study, and no literature would be complete without the profile of black women in these communities and in this city. We live as quilombos, as a rural-type community, many people live off fishing. There is no sanitation, there is no water for everyone, so what is this urbanization that people are discussing in this city? People do not understand what this urbanization is and where we are discussing it,” questions Sarah in a criticism of the reports that illustrate Recife as a totally urbanized capital.


These and other challenges were discussed in the webinar, introducing more concerns than answers. This shows that climate change and social inequalities - especially of gender - are nothing more than interconnected human constructions. The responsibility of men and women is to combat them. We still have a long path of reflection and changes to travel for gender equity in the climate community to become a reality.


Be sure to watch the full webinar and share it with your network. Available in Portuguese.


Until the webinar, the Work Group of Gender and Climate involved the following organizations: Apremavi, Engajamundo, GTA, iCS, IEI Brasil, Imaflora, Imazon, Instituto Alziras, Instituto Pólis, ISA, WRI, WWF and YCL. If you would like to receive more information about the initiative and its strategy, please write to nara.ext@imaflora.org

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