Gender Lens, Essential in Global Response to Climate-Induced Migration

Woman crossing a river in Udayapur during the dry season. Nepal is one of the regions in the country vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Photo: IOM

Vienna, International Women’s Day 2022 – Some people think of migration as a relatively new phenomenon: the “unfinished business of globalization”. Others call it humanity’s oldest poverty-reduction strategy.

Some see it as male-dominated, as thousands of men converge on mega construction projects around the globe. Others say it’s mainly female, pointing to the many women who migrate as domestic workers and medical staff.

Two things are certain. First, migration is a matter of perspective. And second, migration is dynamic, constantly changing.

Over the past two decades, the impacts of climate change on migration have been in sharp focus. We know that floods and droughts are more frequent and more severe. The world is warming at an alarming rate, and the impact is keenly seen in human mobility patterns.

This we know. It may be disputed, but the science tells us it is happening. We also know that men and women migrate in more or less even numbers, but how migration affects them and their families is often very different, with women generally being better agents of development, sending home regular small amounts which support child welfare.

What is less well known and needs to take centre stage is the gender aspect of climate change. It is essential that we place gender at the forefront when exploring the impacts of climate change on societies, including its interlinkages with migration.

Gender roles in households and society, social norms, and access to information and institutions shape vulnerabilities. These intersect with ethnicity, class, and race, resulting in multiple types of marginalization and exclusion. This leaves women and men with different means to respond to the same hazard.

Gender dimensions shape the decisions of women and men adversely affected by climate change and environmental degradation. Acknowledging this could lead to a better understanding of the process and help address specific opportunities and challenges for male and female migrants.

Migration can be a strategy to adapt to the adverse impacts of environmental shocks and stressors, including climatic ones. While female migrants’ contribution to poverty reduction, health and education is well known, there is still little awareness about their role in supporting adaptation.

In households from which a male family member migrates, leaving women to manage the household, vulnerability to natural hazards can increase if women do not have access to information, capacity development, institutions, and resources. A study in the Sahritus district of Tajikistan indicates that while over half of the respondent households save money, little is spent on measures to address drought and water scarcity.

Turkey experienced some of the worst wildfires in the country’s history in 2021. A longer wildfire season is expected due to warmer and drier conditions because of climate change, especially in the Mediterranean region.

There are 1.7 million female Syrian migrants with temporary protected status in Turkey and they are vulnerable to these wildfires. What is being done for them, as an especially vulnerable group?

In line with its new Institutional Strategy on Migration, Environment and Climate Change 2021-2030, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has adopted a gender-responsive approach in developing solutions for people who have moved, who are on the move and those who stay behind.

IOM aims to ensure that existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are neither reinforced, redistributed nor created. The focus is on female migrants, women and girls displaced by disasters and women who stay behind when others leave.

This work is guided by global policy frameworks such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Agenda 2030 and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

IOM recognizes that all women, those who move and those who stay, are, or have the potential to be, leaders and powerful agents of change. Empowering women will enable them and their families to benefit from climate change adaptation.

By Renate Held, Regional Director, IOM Vienna

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 13 - Climate Action