Climate Change


Climate Podcast: Are women more at risk from climate change?

Welcome back to episode two of Generation One: The Climate Podcast. Mark’s here this week with two brilliant guests, Dr Virginie Le Masson, from the UCL Institute of Gender and Disaster, and Mathilde Rainard, master's student at the University of Leeds and UNFCCC Consultant. This week we’re talking about gender and how it intersects into the climate crisis, from tackling single-use period products to much needed policy changes. Listen now to hear about how and why women are more negatively impacted by climate change, as well as what we can do about it.


UCL Minds  0:02  
We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.

Virginie Le Masson  0:09  
Women still face backlash at every level of decision making and in all domains of their life. 

Mathilde Rainard  0:18  
'Gender equality is a woman's issue' - It is not is everyone's issue.

Virginie Le Masson  0:24  
Policymakers kind of ignore this issue well, because maybe most of policymakers are men. They just don't understand.

Mark Maslin  0:36  
This is generation one from University College London, turning climate science and ideas into action. Hello, and welcome to Generation One, by Mark Maslin, professor of geography here at UCL researching climate change in the past, the present, and even the future. Over the course of these podcasts, we have covered a real wide variety of topics from sustainable fashion and tree planting to plant based diets and the importance of finding economic solutions to the challenge of climate change.

In this episode, we're going to be talking about a really important issue within the climate debate, the role that gender plays in contributing to the crisis we find ourselves in, and more importantly, how addressing gender issues could help us find a way out. But before I introduce my guests, I want to take a moment to remind you how you can get involved in the podcast, and also UCL's work and campaigns. We have a website ucl.ac.uk/climate-change. There you'll find all kinds of news, research and practical information about how your choices can make a difference. We would obviously love it if you would rate and subscribe to this podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from, not to mention to share it with your network. We're also on Instagram and Twitter, #UCLGeneratioOne where you can comment, we would love to get your emails with comments and suggestions for future topics. The address is podcasts@ucl.ac.uk. If you want, you can send a voice note and we will include it in future episodes.

UCL Minds  2:27  
You're listening to UCL Generation One, turning science and ideas into climate action.

Mark Maslin  2:35  
This week, we're talking about gender or gender inequality and how it intersects with climate change. We don't want today's episode to focus on how climate change affects women more than men. We all know this. And there's lots of research out there to prove it. If you want to learn more, you can check out our lunch hour lecture on this topic available on audio and video formats from UCL climate change website. But today, we want to focus not just on how but why and also what we can do. Now this is obviously a huge topic and has many layers. However, we're hoping to make a dent in this discussion with our two brilliant guests. Firstly, we have Dr. Virginie Le Masson who is co director of the Centre of Gender and Disaster here at UCL. Her research looks at gender inequalities and violence related risks in places affected by environmental changes and disasters. I'm also very pleased to be joined by Mathilde Rainard. Mathilde is a graduate of science in France and the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on the gender climate Nexus. Mathilde currently works for the UNFCCC gender team and will be starting her PhD in Leeds in October. So welcome both of you are going to kick off with probably the biggest question. Some people who don't study this subject may be sceptical about why we're dedicating a whole episode to gender. So can I start with Virginie? Can you explain to our listeners why gender is so relevant to dealing with climate change? And then we'll come to Mathilde. 

Virginie Le Masson  4:15  
Thanks, Mark. I could offer two reasons. And the first one is from an academic perspective, a gender approach to study climate change draws on feminist environmental research. And this is crucial to understand how human societies rely on the environment. How do people in some contexts destroy natural resources while others dedicate their lives and protecting nature? What are the reasons that constraints or values that shape people's interactions with their environments? And it is difficult to find answers to this question without understanding human and power relations, which is why agenda analysis is such a fundamental research tool. And linking gender and climate change is a way to better understand how different people perceive climate change how they are affected by it if they care or not about the environment, and also who decides how to address the issue. And the second reason, from a human rights perspective, taking a gender lens is useful to observe and understand who makes decisions on societal development pathways. And what we see is that women are still systematically underrepresented among policymakers at the heart of climate governance, for example. And this lack of parity is damaging for the ambition of the negotiations, because it is shown by research that women's representation in Parliament's leads the governments to adopt more ambitious climate change policies. 

Mark Maslin  5:41  
So can I bring you in Mathilde? Because you're actually working for the UNFCCC gender team? So why do they feel this is so important to actually deal with? 

Mathilde Rainard  5:51  
Hi, thank you. Well, the UNFCCC approach to gender is really driven by cop 25 approach to gender. So I'm not obviously I'm talking on my behalf and on the behalf of the UN. Gender is such an important topic here, because it is about taking a systemic approach to climate change. So as Virginie mentioned, you know, the real thing is, as well is really to look into this systemic approach it gender equality is interesting. And the gender climate Nexus looks really not just gender and not just women and men, obviously, but also how we like relationship with each other. And how these relationships with each other affects our relationship with the natural environment.

Mark Maslin  6:43  
So if we build on that Mathilde, what role do women have when we're looking at both adaptation and mitigation efforts?]

Mathilde Rainard  6:52  
 There's many studies looking at, you know, women in developing countries, privileging climate resilience, agriculture, because their gender roles pushes them to think about the future of their children. And so they want to be able to provide for their family and their subsistence farming is getting more and more climate resilient. That would be a good example in terms of mitigation as Virginie mentioned already. There's some studies that looked into how female parliamentarian across the globe are making more equal conscious choices in terms of policies and how they can influence governments to take more critical actions towards solving the climate issue. 

Mark Maslin  7:34  
So Virginie, is this actually reflected? In your research? Have you found that including women in power structures that allows us to actually adapt and mitigate against climate change in a better way?

Virginie Le Masson  7:48  
There is an increasing amount of funding that goes towards climate change adaptation, or resilience building. And organisation works with local communities affected by climate change, for example, in the Sahel, and in Chad in particular, which I know best. And they've try and find ways to support agriculture, access to improve seeds, better integration systems, increase water governance, but when one brings a gender lens into, for example, vulnerability assessments, or risk assessments, something that constantly come back is that the number one challenge that women face is violence towards them, often perpetrated by community or family members, but also in conflict, affected area violence perpetrated by combatants. And so when they face this violence issue, it restricts their access to all the other resources that they need to function on a daily basis, whether it's water, fuel, food, access to the markets, access to education. So many girls, adolescent girls are restricted from attending schools because they are girls. And so bringing that gender lens into the picture is a way to see who is missing at the level of decision making process, even at the community level. And if we brought more women at that level, all these issues related to care, education, health access, would be much more put to the forefront. And therefore the resources both from the committee and from external assistance will be dedicated to those issues, where women have a huge role to play. And so I what I found in the research is that this is also magnified at the international level if we bring more women among the negotiations, these issues related to care are also more highlighted.

Mark Maslin  9:52  
I mean, that brings me on to the next area, which is one of the SDGs focuses on Equality. Specifcially the target says, adopt and strengthen sound policies, enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality, and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels. So I'm going to ask you the difficult question, which is what are the opportunities for policy changes? And how do we really think we can get more inclusive governance? How can we actually really bring this about in a diverse set of countries that we're dealing with? First of all, the policy that promote equality needs to to exist, and in some countries, they don't even exist. But when they do exist, often there's this huge disconnect between what the policy says and what it actually does in practice, because of the lack of enforcement. And so more and more we see policy that established parity among parliament, for example, or at certain certain sector. And one thing that we know, obviously, is that parity does not guarantee that women's needs and priorities will be taking into account. But still their presence at the negotiating table, for example, or in the media as as experts, these are still necessary for them to be able to express their needs and priorities. Materials, are there particular policy changes that you are seeing within the gender team that should be adopted by many countries, as Virginia was saying there are many policies that can be implemented, and a lot of them like look at parity at first, but it needs to go beyond that. And it needs to start at the source. Sometimes, you know, when you go straight into the parliamentarian arena, it's almost too late for women to be just integrated there. It needs to start before in terms of policies we've seen is that most countries have recognised the issue of gender inequality, however, in their implementation of policies, very often lack the practical side of things. So just being a policy up can be, you can see some really good policies on paper, but that doesn't mean that they are implemented as they should be underground. Virginie, can I ask a radical question? Do you think that something like quotas actually helped? So I remember when Rwanda actually set up their first parliament posts, their troubles, they actually set a minimum of 25% of their MPs had to be female? Do you think quotas like that actually help? 

Virginie Le Masson  9:53  
Absolutely. In fact, Rwanda is one of the two only countries in the world that has absolute parity in the parliaments where women parliamentarians are actually more numerous than their male counterparts, the other countries Bolivia, at least from 2019, statistics. And what we've seen in Rwanda is that there's a pretty good track record on investment towards education in the country compared to other neighbouring African countries. So again, I haven't done a full PhD on correlation between women's parliamentarian and education outcomes. But it does make a huge difference. But also because it sets a precedent it shows it brings a nice model for the youth, for girls and adolescent girls who are now entering into new sectors and new education disciplines to see that they actually can go all the way to leadership positions. Because if we don't have quota, then none of the other moral arguments have worked. So far, women still face backlash at every level of decision making, and in all domains of their life. 

Mark Maslin  13:51  
I always get asked about population growth and climate change. And I always get that Daily Mail argument that we have too many people in foreign countries. How do you see the population debate through the lens of gender and climate change? And I'm going to start off with Virginie. 

Virginie Le Masson  14:09  
Yes, it isn't a useful aspect of the discussion, because it brings a dominant discourse that has to be a little bit challenged, or at least questioned. And this discourse is around the control of women's natality, which is within the broader context of patriarchy. And often it's sort of in reemphasize stereotypes of women in low income countries have too many children. But we cannot talk about population growth as a driver of environmental degradation without linking it to consumption. And what drives climate change is the lifestyle of inhabitants in high income countries, not necessarily the natality rates of women in in the low income countries. And that's why it has it's important to really connect this question with human rights and girls reproductive rights

Emily  15:01  
Mathilde have you had to deal with this sort of, I would say counterproductive argument about too many poor people.

Mathilde Rainard  15:09  
Everyone that has anything to do with climate just when I say, you know, I'm I'm doing a when I was doing my master's and I was like, Oh, I'm doing my master's in climate change and environmental policy, and you were like, oh, yeah, obviously, there's too many people on this planet. And the way that the population argument comebacks in the gender climate today is actually not in as Virginie put it. It's not too bad, because you can take it from, oh, there's too many people on the planet to look, if we were to educate and give rights to all these people that are already here, then the population wouldn't grow as fast. And maybe as well, we'd be able to bring more equality in the debate, you know, and more inclusivity and more diversity, because if people are better educated, and that includes a woman, but also other kinds of marginalised groups, it goes beyond just woman's right here and really goes towards social justice in general.

Emily  16:04  
I have to say, I call the population discussion as sort of a zombie discussion, because it's one of those things, it doesn't matter how much evidence or clarity you bring to it, the idea never really dies, which really upsets me. We've received two great questions from our listeners. And I'm really pleased that we have one from a UCL student, Emily,

As a young woman, I feel that feminine care is an area that my single use plastic consumption is really high in. But I don't really feel that the onus should be on me to offset this. What can policy do to help women feel like they're still making an environmental impact in a positive way?

Mathilde? Do you want to start with that one?

Mathilde Rainard  16:46  
Yes, I think this one is a very interesting question. Because, again, it's shifting the issue of solving the climate crisis, kind of like on the consumer, it is not up to you to have to change your entire life, because you feel that the government should be taking actions for single use plastic to be banned from your average supermarket

Emily  17:08  
Virginie, I feel that sometimes feminine care is something that is ignored by policymakers, and is clearly a gender issue. How would you want to answer this question?

Virginie Le Masson  17:19  
Whether provocation when you say, policymakers kind of ignore this issue? Well, because maybe most of policymakers are men, they just don't understand the issue. But in France, actually, until five years ago, I think Mathilde, maybe you could correct me, the hygiene products were taxed with VAT that was the equivalent of luxury products. So women had to pay more, because our tampons were taxed as a luxury product. And I think this is what is needed at the global scale is to provide girls and women with a choice of non polluting products that they use every month. And then also for this to work, it needs to be a topic that is no longer taboo, and it is still culturally, politically, socially, very taboo. So personally, I went on a campaign now to openly speak about my periods, to not hide it when I am on my period and to also openly discuss the different options that I have don't have, especially when one does fieldwork, because that's a whole other area of research. How do women manage the periods when they do fieldwork in places where there's not even access to clean water? It's a fascinating topic. And I'm glad that this person asked it to make it more of a public discussion.

Emily  18:43  
Brilliant answers.

Mathilde Rainard  18:44  
And if I can add one thing is that because Virginie, I am completely with you on that it's such a taboo topic, and it's very sad. But the other thing I wanted to add as well is that all these plastic use in hygiene products, also very bad for your body, there's so many natural solutions and women have been using these natural solutions in many other places, and throughout centuries, and we do not have to have all this plastic on the planet nor in all bodies.

Emily  19:14  
I think that's a fantastic point, Matilda, I still get really worried that actually, you do realise that we have microplastics in our blood now, which always shocks me. We have another question from one of our listeners. This one is from Joseph. He asks, how can we ensure that we are talking about gender that we are being inclusive of all genders and not just sticking to the gender binary? Do the discussions around gender and climate change, focus on women or do we have a broader view?

Virginie Le Masson  19:46  
Unfortunately, most research on gender climate change has focused on women. But there is increasingly more research that tries to take a non binary approach and that document Under the experiences of other sexual and gender identities, slowly and slowly, the narrative is getting a bit more nuanced. And also, I think what is really important is similar to the fact that climate change should not be reduced to the differentiating impacts on men and women. We should really focus research on what is driving climate change, who are the polluting sectors and who is driving them so that the nuance is also more on the gender of those in the sector, if that makes sense,

Mark Maslin  20:38  
Perfect. Mathilde, how does the UNFCCC gender group actually see gender in a much broader sense?

Mathilde Rainard  20:48  
So in all UN, that I've seen so far, and obviously, again, I'm reiterating the fact that I'm speaking on my own own behalf. Most of it is still framed as men versus women. But obviously, this is because most of the as Virginie said, most of the research is still framed as such. However, it is always always always recognised that gender is not binary. But obviously, as well, something that I've seen, that is increasingly done in all kinds of research focusing on gender is to take an intersectional approach. And when you look at a multitude of other social factors, such as you know, location, class age, a lot of research are also integrating different sexual identities as well. And so that is broadening our understanding of the intersection of these factors into the gender climate Nexus.

Emily  21:40  
Thank you. So we have a last question, which is there must be some burning myths of falsehood, within the whole gender debate that must really upset you and get you sort of like hot under the collar. So I'm going to ask Mathilde, is there is there something that you want to bust? Now you can you can really go for a rant if you want to?

Mathilde Rainard  22:05  
Well, mine is really the fact that gender equality is a woman's issue. It is not, is everyone's issue. It's social justice, gender equality, social justice. And when you start giving more rights to women, you're not just benefiting that particular group, you're actually benefiting the society as a whole as we speak about during similar podcasts. More women in politics is more children and girls in schools for longer. It has multiple ripple benefits that is not just benefiting women, it's actually benefiting society as a whole,

Mark Maslin  22:41  
and Mathilde, I can actually hear the listeners now actually cheering wherever they are, whether they're on their air pods, whether they're listening on sort of like their phone, etc. I can hear them all cheering. Fantastic, myth busting. So Virginie No, no pressure, then what myths Do you want to bust then?

Virginie Le Masson  23:01  
There is a statistics that keeps being repeated ever since I started undergraduate studies. And it is that women apparently are 14 times more likely to be affected by disasters than men. And I worked on a report six years ago with audio, my previous job. And we tried to compile a series of statistics on trying to show the comparatively vulnerability of women compared to men. And I just couldn't trace that statistic back to any sources. It keeps showing reports, mostly from the UN, I'm sorry, being being cited over and over again. But there was no tracing back to an original piece of research that came up with that number is if somebody knows it, please give it to me. But it really saddens me when I see policymakers doing their homework, trying to get some key messages from research. And just using and recycling that statistic over and over again, when it's not backed up by any research.

Mark Maslin  24:06  
I think that is prime location for a decent PhD to study that. So I think I think you've you've put out the offer there. I think that's perfect. So can I actually say, I huge thank you to Virginie and Mathilde for a brilliant podcast on gender and gender equality, again, so important when we look at the climate debate. And the thing I'm going to take away from this, and I'm basically building on both of what you said, which is, there is no climate justice without social justice, and gender justice. Thank you so much for being on my podcast.

Virginie Le Masson  24:45  
Thank you so much. Thank you.

UCL Minds  24:48  
You're listening to UCL generation one, turning science and ideas into climate action.

Mark Maslin  24:55  
In a moment, I'll be rounding up some of the notable climate stories that I've been tracking this week. But before I do, let me remind you about all the ways you can get involved in the podcast and UCL is work related to climate change, which you can find on ucl.ac.uk/climate-change, please rate and subscribe to the podcast and send us a comment or question to podcasts@ucl.ac.uk.

That conversation with Matilda and Virginia was recorded a couple of weeks ago. But now it is time for a quick round up the climate news stories for the week beginning the ninth of May 2022. A new study published in Science suggested legal claims from oil and gas investors against government could reach over $34 billion. This is because many oil and gas developments are protected by international investment treaties. The five countries with the greatest potential loss from these claims are Mozambique Guyana, Venezuela, Russia, and surprisingly the United Kingdom with a liability of up to 14 billion. I recently attended the Royal Aeronautical Society Conference towards a space enabled Net Zero earth. At this meeting a colleague at Dena Gillespie, who was a brilliant researcher at UCL, and is now the Director of Business Development at GHG set showed satellite data of multiple methane leakages from an oil and gas refinery in Turkmenistan. Each one of these leaks was equivalent to the co2 emissions of 1 million cars running for a whole year. But the facility refuses to do anything about these leaks unless they are paid to prevent them. India and Pakistan are in the grips of an extreme heatwave with temperatures in some places going over 45 degrees Celsius, which leaves people gasping in the shade and there's driven demand for air conditioning. This climate crisis has led to record electricity demand, it seems that climate change is causing longer heat waves in this region, which in the short term is causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the demand for air conditioning.

That is it for this episode of generation one from UCL turning climate science and ideas into action. As I mentioned, we would love to hear from you with your comments, questions and feedback. So please send us an email to podcasts with an s@ucl.ac.uk. The next additional generation one from UCL will be available next Wednesday, when Helen and her guests will be talking about bees and their important place in supporting our environment. So it's goodbye for now.