Changing Climate: Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow and the call for inclusive responses to climate change and forced migration in the MENA Region

Carmela Godeau, IOM MENA Regional Director

The Middle East and North Africa region is, and will be, one of the regions most affected by climate change. Temperatures in the region are increasing at twice the speed of other regions. The World Bank estimates that sea level rise alone could displace millions of people along MENA's populated coasts and noting that in North Africa, and that there could be up to 19.3 million internal “climate migrants” by 2050. Extreme weather events are prospected to increase in quantity and extremity in the years to come, while water scarcity and decreasing access to water will pose significant risks to communities, farmers, pastoralists and other mobile populations, including those already displaced by conflict, further exacerbating their vulnerabilities. Among all these groups, women continue to be disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change and the responses to these issues are too often not inclusive. As women’s participation in society is too often hindered by cultural, social and structural barriers, their role in climate-related decision- and policy-making is often limited as well.


At the International Organization of Migration, we join our partners in the United Nations system in advocating gender equality for a sustainable tomorrow on this International Women’s Day. Moreover, we specifically draw attention to the importance of truly inclusive approaches when responding to issues of climate change and forced migration, as an important matter of gender equality.


To be able to respond adequately to the multifaceted challenges of climate change and forced migration, we must rely on a strong evidence base. This is in line with the Global Compact for safe, orderly and humane migration which emphasizes the importance of disaggregated and accurate data to inform evidence-based policies. Yet, data collection exercises are too often “gender-blind” or do not substantively assess how women are specifically affected by climate change, an issue that unfortunately is apparent in responding to conflict-induced displacement as well. While efforts are made to integrate displaced populations in data collection efforts and development strategies– a critical endeavour to ensure that no-one is left behind – women's unique qualities and resilience are too often overlooked as a key component of any adaptation and mitigation measures which have the potential to benefit their communities.


It is for this reason that we must increase our efforts towards inclusivity in all phases of our programming. This starts with ensuring that our data collection efforts are geared towards true inclusion: not only should questions be looking at how women are specifically affected by climate change - and related dynamics like migration and conflict - but also how their role and position in their communities and society more broadly impacts their exposure to these challenges. Perhaps more importantly, data collection efforts should also look at how to leverage these positions towards a positive impact in their communities through contributing to these responses. Inclusive design is only the first step, however, data collectors should create spaces where women feel safe and empowered to share their insights and experiences, for example through women-only focus groups, led by female enumerators.


When implementing evidence-based programming around the issue of forced migration and climate change, more emphasis should be placed on working with local women-led organizations and to supporting women-led initiatives, to stay true to the issue of leaving no one behind as stated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Building on these initiatives ensures that resources are used locally and respond to the needs that the communities affected by displacement have identified. The enormous variety and localized nature of the impacts of climate change require direct support to affected communities to maximize the success of any intervention. Support to women-led initiatives is an element of this approach and is therefore crucial in this regard.

In areas where climate change limits the access of communities to natural resources or may act as a catalyzing factor to intercommunal conflict, specifically in areas with high levels of displacement, inclusive approaches are a foundation for a successful intervention. In Yemen, for example, IOM has worked with local communities to establish water user associations with at least one third female members. These committees have strongly contributed to enabling communities to peacefully resolve issues arising around water scarcity, a testimony to the importance of including women at all phases of project design. As water scarcity will become a more important challenge as a result of climate change, inclusive committees as those in Yemen will be essential in promoting peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms and address challenges around displacement.

In line with these inclusive approaches, IOM serves on the Steering Committee for the “Women and Climate Change” flagship report of the Women Development Organization (WDO) which is one of the eight specialized institutions of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which focuses on women's development. The findings of this inter-institutional effort should be presented at COP 27 in November of this year.


On the International Women’s Day 2022, we once again highlight the need for gender equality and work to make our programming truly gender-sensitive, we call on all our partners to join us in stepping up these efforts. Because without it, our programming will be not only less effective, but most women in need will not get the assistance that they need when facing the challenges of climate change. As said by many, without bold action, climate change will deepen existing vulnerabilities its therefore for all of us to make sure women at all levels will be part of the action, because together we are stronger!