How women’s leadership and expertise can shape sustainable and inclusive cities

In recent years, a small number of extraordinary women have emerged as key leaders on global action to tackle climate change. However, more generally, women are grossly under-represented in high-level climate negotiations; tend to be disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts; and climate solutions tend to ignore gender-specific issues, perpetuating a general bias of infrastructure and services designed predominantly for men. This report sets out proposals for how to correct these imbalances and, through focusing on an inclusive climate action approach, to ensure that investment to cut emissions and improve resilience will benefit the full diversity of urban residents, rich and poor, men and women.

Gender is an important factor that influences people’s lived experiences within a city, as well as their vulnerability to, and ability to mitigate, climate impacts. The design and planning of transport systems in cities provide an excellent example. Bus and metro networks tend to prioritise routes that bring commuters from the suburbs and outer boroughs into the city centre. These routes are assumed to offer the greatest economic benefit to the city, and they are statistically more likely to be used by men, travelling to and from workplaces.

Yet research shows that the majority of journeys on public transport in cities are made by women, taking shorter trips, with multiple stops and at different times of the day to the traditional commuter hours. Women’s journeys are often more encumbered, for example with pushchairs or small children; women also face more safety concerns on public transport, which are often factors in their decision-making about what modes to use, and when.

Women’s organisations and grassroots activism have played critical roles in increasing women’s representation in, and elevating gender issues at, international climate negotiations, as well as empowering women, building capacity, raising awareness and mobilising collective action. However, these activities are often undervalued in discussions about how cities can deliver on what the science says we need and avoid catastrophic climate change.

To achieve gender-inclusive climate action, we need more women in leadership positions, bringing their perspectives and experiences into the decision-making processes, greater consultation with women during policy-making, and better analysis of the differentiated gendered needs within cities.

Strategies to increase women’s leadership in climate action and improve consultation detailed in this report include:

  • Investing in mentoring programmes for women. These have huge potential to strengthen female leadership in climate action, especially at the local level. Cities should invest in mentoring programmes and monitor and evaluate them regularly to improve, scale and replicate.
  • Applying the GAMMA methodology. This methodology can be applied collectively by local governments with grassroots organisations and residents. It allows cities to examine the gender responsiveness of local policies and to identify entry points to integrate a gender perspective/gender-informed recommendations.
  • Gender-responsive participatory planning. Participatory processes enable local government to harness local knowledge and local priorities to maximise resource effectiveness in climate planning.

Strategies to improve the analysis of differentiated gender needs detailed in this report include:

  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data. This provides city leaders and other stakeholders with common data, indicators and vocabulary to devise strategies to increase women’s inclusion in climate action.
  • Gender-responsive budgeting – particularly in infrastructure investments. This enables policymakers to assess the gendered impacts of public spending. In climate finance, it would also help to identify how investment in technological innovation to address climate change may disparately impact women.
  • Conducting women’s safety audits. Safety concerns impact women’s travel around a city and can inhibit their participation in low-carbon mobility solutions. Audits can improve safety for women and girls and provide robust indicators for systematic safety assessments.

To implement the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target and achieve climate action, cities must include all residents. These recommendations and tools can guide cities to achieve inclusive climate action.