Addressing Loss and Damage with a Gender Lens

By Vositha Wijenayake

Various research on climate change has illustrated that men and women are affected differently by the impacts of climate change. It is further noted that they respond differently to these impacts. This has been recognised as a guiding principle of the development of adaptation policies and measures and it has also further been noted that there is a need to mainstream gender equality in all aspects related to climate change, including loss and damage.

Non economic losses and impacts of gender

While economic losses could be described as the loss of resources, goods and services that are commonly traded in markets, non-economic could be categorised as those that are not commonly traded in markets. As the technical paper on non-economic losses published by the UNFCCC provides, non-economic losses occur in three distinct areas, namely private individuals, society and the environment. This includes “losses of, inter alia, life, health, displacement and human mobility, territory, cultural heritage, indigenous/local knowledge, biodiversity and ecosystem services.” These losses are related to slow onset impacts as well as extreme events related to climate change.

Gender plays a role in how individuals are impacted by non-economic losses. This is due to the fact that the woman’s contribution to communities and families is for most part in developing countries in non-monetary ways. With no quantifiable element to the female’s contribution, in the loss and damage discussion on climate change, women are prone to be marginalised. Also given cultural beliefs and vulnerabilities, in extreme weather events vulnerability of individuals would be increased based on gender, and also gender stereotyping. Cultural beliefs could create discrimination of women and girls when food security is impacted due to extreme weather events and food is scarce in societies where men and boys are given priority over their female counterparts. This could also be applicable to the case of migration whereby women and girls could be more vulnerable to lack of shelter, and victims of different forms of violence of which they become targets. Research conducted by the International Organisation for Migration provides that  women who migrate are “more vulnerable to physical, sexual and verbal abuse when travelling and more likely to fall prey to human traffickers for the sex industry.”

Slow onset events and gender

Men and women are affected differently from slow onset events. In direct impacts of sudden onset hasards such as floods and cyclones women are more vulnerable due to gender roles and restrictions. In many cultures of the developing world, where women are treated with many restrictions than men, swimming is not a skill that women possess making them more vulnerable to disasters such as floods. Research data provide that the deaths of women in a natural disaster as those afore quoted, are much higher than those of men.

The slow onset impacts such as droughts, desertification create additional burdens on women where women play the role of collecting water, and taking care of the daily chores which is based on the use of water. With the scarcity of water  increased due to slow onset impacts, women are forced to travel farther in search of water, and increased work load to ensure food security. Women are also impacted by the migration where data provides an increase of female headed households due to males migrating in search of work due to slow onset events.

Achieving gender sensitivity

In order to achieve gender sensitivity in addressing loss and damage in climate change, one needs to focus on different levels. One being the availability of data which focus on the impacts based on gender. There is a key need for gender segregated data, which has been highlighted when attempting to understand the impacts climate change impacts communities. This also entails the need for support for countries to establish systems that will be collecting data with gender segregation.

Another element which is important is the developing of gender sensitive programs to address loss and damage. This also would include the need for provision of funding for setting up these programs, and also for gender budgeting whereby for projects there is a set up for awareness creation and gender sensitivity in built into projects addressing loss and damage related to climate change.

In addition to this it is important that when Parties plan development measures to address loss and damage, they make use of gender-sensitive indicators. Their inclusion will facilitate the inclusion of women’s knowledge, experience and perspectives in planning and implementation, and the monitoring and evaluation.  Further gender-specific support mechanisms which are needed for women to be involved in risk management programmes and actions are also key for moving towards a gender sensitive approach to addressing loss and damage due to climate change.


Gender needs must be addressed when seeking for solutions to address impacts of climate change.  While rendered vulnerable due to certain circumstances, women with their knowledge and experience are also a strong actors to bring change, and to find solutions to address impacts of climate change. They provide support to enhance the capacity of communities to deal with climate change impacts. In developing a gender sensitive approach to loss and damage, one can only develop the benefits of solutions proposed to address the impacts, as well as focus on these issues in a more efficient as well as a sustainable manner.


  • Technical paper on non-economic losses in the context of the work programme on loss and damage, FCCC/TP/2013/2,
  • Naim von Ritter Figueres (2013) Loss and damage, women and men:  Applying a gender approach to the emerging loss and damage agenda,
  • International Organization for Migration (2002) Gender and Migration
  • Morrissey J and Oliver-Smith A (2013) Perspectives on non-economic loss and damage: understanding values at risk from climate change. Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative.

About the Author:

Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.