chapter  11
16 Pages

Challenging stereotypes about gendered vulnerability to climate change: asset adaptation in Mombasa and Cartagena


Introduction Climate change and natural disasters are often closely interrelated, such that they comprise an overlapping continuum. Consequently, they are frequently conflated, both analytically in terms of the conceptualisation of local populations as vulnerable, but also operationally in terms of associated policies and programmes designed to prevent and overcome their negative impacts. These range from disaster risk reduction, through disaster risk management, to climate change adaptation. The tragic outcomes for local populations of climate changerelated disasters, as well as other types of natural disaster such as the Asian Tsunami, and the Central American Mitch and New Orleans Katrina hurricanes, have resulted in a tendency to focus on dramatic big disasters. In such events the profound gender-related vulnerability of elderly, women, and children has been well documented. This has included women drowning because of their inability to swim, a deficit in human capital; women unable to flee because of their domestic ‘reproductive’ responsibilities to care for children and the elderly, linked to household social capital; and the prevalence of gender-based violence associated with displacement, resulting in the erosion of their human and social capital. All of these affect the capabilities of women, and therefore make them more vulnerable and less resilient to these types of climate-related disaster. At the same time, the essential, invaluable role that women play in post-disaster reconstruction, based on their community social capital, also has been broadly recognised (see Bradshaw 2013; Liu 2007). Therefore, at the outset it is necessary to clarify the difference between two, often conflated, weather patterns: first, the dramatic ‘extreme’ weather associated with disasters; and, second, the ‘severe’ weather linked to climate change. This confusion or lack of conceptual clarity has led to the assumption that women are equally vulnerable in both weather-related contexts. Yet increases in the severity and intensity of adverse weather associated with climate change are not necessarily dramatic, immediate, time-bound ‘shocks’. These are far more likely to comprise temporally slow, incremental impacts of long-term trends in the increasing severity of weather, which because it is not dramatic ‘is likely to

be ignored, which is much more invidious’ (Moser et al. 2010, 16). Indeed, the fact that climate is seen only through the lens of disaster means this presents a very partial picture (Bradshaw and Linneker 2014). This chapter, therefore, is intended to start to fill this gap. Following on from Sarah Bradshaw’s chapter on disasters, this chapter focuses specifically on the gradual changing ‘severe’ weather patterns more likely to be associated with climate change. It uses an asset adaptation framework to address stereotype assumptions about gendered vulnerability as well as adaptive capacity. It seeks to explore whether local knowledge of weather is gendered, whether women in urban contexts are more vulnerable to climate change than men, and the extent to which adaptive responses differ. This allows for consideration of whether adaptation changes gender roles, and the contexts in which this can lead to transformative changes in gender relations. Using the evidence base from two participatory appraisals of local community adaptation to climate change in Mombasa, Kenya, and Cartagena, Colombia, the chapter is intended to contribute to debates about gendered asset adaption to climate change, the extent to which this has the potential to empower women, and whether subsequent gendered transformations contribute to a more just city.