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Walk a mile in her shoes: Building rural women’s climate-resilience in the wake of COVID-19

15 October 2020

Globally the health, social and economic challenges wrought by COVID-19 have been swift and devastating, unfolding in a matter of months. The pandemic struck against the backdrop of another, no less dramatic, global crisis: climate change. The twin crises have highlighted the urgency for a green, inclusive and transformative recovery –  one that advances social justice and equality for all.

Around the world, the impacts of a warming planet are being felt as weather patterns become more unpredictable, and the frequency and intensity of disasters increase. Like COVID-19, the impacts are not experienced equally within and across countries. Factors such as social status, gender, poverty, and access to resources influence our vulnerability.

For women who already face inequalities within their society, climate change has the potential to reinforce and exacerbate disparities. For instance, rural women, who are generally the lead caregivers in their families and households, will likely face a heavier burden as they are required to walk longer distances to fetch water and fuel. Or when a climate-driven disaster leads to food shortages, women are more likely to suffer from malnutrition as they give priority to men and children.

Yet despite their heightened vulnerability to climate change, women should not be seen merely as victims.

Women, especially rural women, often act as the backbone of their family, supporting household food security, health, and wellness while also contributing to economies through crop and livestock production and other sources of income. They are often environmental stewards, especially in local and indigenous communities. Given this central role in families and communities, they have a critical part to play in preparing, adapting, and responding to climate change.

The role of nationally determined contributions, or climate pledges

As the global community rallies to address climate change through the landmark Paris Agreement, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have become powerful strategic tools that guide national climate action. Submitted every five years, they provide an opportunity for countries to identify and address their priorities for both mitigation and adaptation.

Increasingly, countries have recognised that integrating gender considerations into NDCs is critical – to ensuring NDCs are more effective in their own right, but also, that they contribute to the broader realization of SDG 5 (Gender Equality). Under the Climate Promise, and its signature programme the NDC Support Programme, UNDP is supporting countries to better incorporate the needs, capacities, knowledge, and leadership of women and other diverse groups into their climate pledges.


In Viet Nam, UNDP has been working for the past decade to ensure that the talents, capacities and contributions of both women and men are brought to bear in climate action, and that gender considerations are integrated into climate-related planning and policymaking.

Between 2016 and 2020 – under the NDC Support Programme, NAP-Ag Programme and Climate Promise – UNDP Viet Nam helped bring together representatives from UN agencies, NGOs, the national Women’s Union, and government agencies to review the inclusion of gender in the country's climate commitments. Feedback from the working group was instrumental in mainstreaming gender issues into the NDC revision process, with members’ inputs shared with the Government’s NDC drafting committee.

Alongside this work, UNDP Viet Nam has produced technical briefs analyzing opportunities for empowering women farmers through enhanced access to climate information services and examining the gender benefits of bringing green-powered electricity to off-grid communities.


Since 2009, UNDP has been a major partner of the Government of Iraq in the areas of environment, energy, and disaster and climate risk management. Gender equality and the empowerment of women have been consistent concerns across these areas.

Deepening the participation and leadership of women in the implementation of Iraq’s INDC (submitted in 2015) remains a strong focus, including establishing gender targets at national and provincial levels. To assist in monitoring, UNDP Iraq has engaged with the Ministry of Health and Environment around developing tools for tracking and reporting on gender-responsive mitigation measures under the NDC. This extends work with the Ministry of Health and Environment to develop the country’s roadmap for mitigation action (known as NAMA) and Iraq’s Country Programme for the Green Climate Fund, both of which incorporated gender considerations.

Now, with UNDP’s support under the Climate Promise, high-level female representatives from related Ministries are being more extensively engaged in the revision of Iraq’s NDC. UNDP is also facilitating the involvement of Women for Green and Safe Iraq, a volunteer organization committed to influencing more gender-responsive policies, strategies, and plans for a brighter future for Iraq.


In Uganda, UNDP has conducted a gender analysis of priority sectors identified under the NDC and developed an action plan to enhance the consideration of gender, and the participation of women, youth and other vulnerable groups in the implementation of climate action. Using the plan as a guide, training has been conducted for government, civil society, and the private sector. A programme of Climate Action Grants, co-established by the NDC Support Programme with the Climate Change Department of the Ministry of Water and Environment, and Private Sector Foundation – is providing catalytic financing for innovative initiatives that contribute to NDC priority areas such as energy, waste management, and climate-smart agriculture. Several of the six winning initiatives in 2019 specifically support women and youth, including a start-up social enterprise generating jobs for small-scale farmers and Internally Displaced Persons. The latest call for proposals focuses specifically on women and youth-led technological solutions with high-impact potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance sustainable development as a whole.


Through the Climate Promise, and an existing regional project Enabling Gender-Responsive Disaster Recovery, Climate and Environmental Resilience in the Caribbean (known as ‘EnGenDER’), UNDP is supporting four countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – to apply a gender lens to their climate change commitments set out under their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

With this support, countries such as Dominica are developing NDC gender mainstreaming roadmaps, helping the countries to systematically consider gender issues and to develop gender-responsive NDC targets and programming. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a private sector scoping study will help to identify investment opportunities for NDC implementation and will also envisage the policy and regulatory environment necessary to support gender-responsive climate action which alleviates rather than exacerbates inequalities.


In Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the impacts of the Beirut Blast and the economic crisis, has shed light on the importance of resilience in the face of climate change and other shocks. As a result, Lebanon's revision of its NDC is focusing heavily on the co-benefits of green recovery and adaptation, and deepening the integration of gender and climate action.

Under the NDC Support Programme, UNDP is helping Lebanon to make its revised NDCs more gender-responsive, and by assessing linkages between climate action in the NDC and the Sustainable Development Goals. The programme has completed a thorough assessment of gender in climate-relevant policies and has identified entry-points to increase the gender-inclusiveness of climate change policies, strategies, planning, and reporting under the NDC. UNDP Lebanon is also supporting a national gender focal points network and capacity-building around gender and climate change.


Working with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Finance, the NDC Support Programme has been providing support to the Government of Chile to implement the country’s initial NDC as well as to strengthen commitments under the country’s revised NDC.

The work has placed a special emphasis on gender, with a raft of initiatives aiming at elevating the agency of women and other vulnerable groups in climate action, including: advocacy for mainstreaming gender into climate change policies and governance; the incorporation of gender into Chile’s draft climate change national law and NDC revisions; public sector guidance and capacity-building for addressing gender; and, based on public consultations, the incorporation of a new social pillar in the country’s NDC. Importantly, through the NDC Support Programme, the Government established a Bureau of Gender and Climate Change to bring together gender and climate experts from various ministries.

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