WELA Report: Gender, Climate and Environmental Justice in Australia

Women and gender diverse people are acutely vulnerable to climate and environmental issues – but they also offer distinctive and effective approaches to solving these challenges. 

Research demonstrates that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change: they are 14 times more likely to perish in a disaster and represent 80 percent of people displaced by extreme weather.

Internationally, the links between gender, and climate and environmental issues have been recognised since the turn of the millennium. These links are recognised throughout the work of United Nations agencies and conventions, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They are also widely recognised in international development work, including aid projects funded by the Australian Government. However, there has been only limited public discussion of the gendered nature of climate and environmental challenges within the Australian domestic context – and such awareness has only permeated policy and investment in a piecemeal way.

A new report from Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) addresses this gap, assessing research data and expert stakeholder perspectives from across Australia.

The report summarises what we know about the gendered impacts of climate and environmental issues and explains why gender diverse leadership is critical to solving these challenges, before ending with a series of key recommendations focused upon: leadership and decision-making; policy-making; finance and investment; the gendered nature of disasters; international commitments; diverse voices and sectors; and a clean and caring economy.

“Us women we’re dealing with the issues on a day-to-day basis for our communities… There’s lots of disputes over native title borders and whatever but the one thing all us women have in common is that our babies are committing suicide… As women we’ll go and say what can we do, what can we contribute.”

Bianca McNeair
Bianca McNeair is a Malgana woman from Gutharagudu (Shark Bay) whose work caring for Country has spanned several different cultural, conservation and political roles. Underpinning all of Bianca’s work caring for Country is an understanding that Aboriginal women bring a much-needed perspective to cultural and environmental issues.

Gendered impacts of climate and environmental issues

Uneven climate and environmental impacts upon women and gender diverse people are a direct result of structural factors including the gendered power relations produced by the overlapping forces of patriarchy, colonialism, racism and unfettered capitalism.

The vulnerability of women and gender diverse people to environmental change is amplified by other intersectional factors including cultural and linguistic diversity, socio-economic status, and health and disability. One of the major reasons for this vulnerability is that women perform more paid and unpaid care work looking after children, older people and people with disabilities. The result is that when crises such as disasters or pandemics strike, women bear a greater burden of looking after others. The report considers a range of spheres where gendered vulnerability to climate and environmental issues is most evident, noting that space precludes discussion of all possible impacts.

Gendered responses and solutions to climate and environmental issues

Women and gender diverse people are more than just passive victims of environmental change - they are also active participants in solving these challenges, offering much-needed leadership and perspectives.

Evidence demonstrates that climate and environmental solutions led by or involving women and gender diverse people achieve more effective and equitable outcomes. Women and gender diverse people bring different experiences, opinions and approaches to their work. Across a range of climate and environment related sectors, women often favour solutions that are nature-based and people-focused. Other industries and sectors are also influenced by gender but we have focused on some of those where the research evidence is strongest.

“Because women founders are the minority, because the system is not built to serve them, they’re a little bit less in service at the system. They’re a little bit more questioning, a little bit more creative, about the type of funding sources that they’re looking for, and the business models that they’re looking to solve, and much more heart driven problems, rather than economic or idea driven problems that look great on a whiteboard but often don’t survive their first contact with the market.”

Kirstin Hunter
Kirstin Hunter is the Managing Director at Techstars, the largest pre-seed technology investor in the world. She helps to identify startups in innovative technologies and connect them with pre-seed investment, training, networks, and mentoring.


1.Support more women and gender diverse people into positions of leadership and decision‐making across government, industry, and the community

1a) Organisations working on climate and environmental challenges and solutions should consider introducing gender-based quotas for senior levels of leadership, including at the board and c-suite.

1b) Priority should be given to ongoing investment in leadership development for women and gender diverse people working in climate and environment related issues and fields. This includes programs, mentoring and other relevant support networks and mechanisms.

Over the past 5 years, the Women’s Leadership and Development Program led by the federal Office for Women has supported numerous women’s leadership projects across a range of sectors and communities.

This program should be expanded with funding for the next 10 years, and include a specific funding stream tied to leadership for climate and environmental outcomes. Program assessment should include an intersectional lens to ensure leadership development funding is inclusive for First Nations women, women of colour and any other marginalised groups.

1c) Further data gathering and analysis, and cross-sectoral dialogue is required into the barriers to increased women’s leadership in different industries, with a view to informing targeted sector-appropriate solutions. Such data gathering and analysis should include an intersectional lens to ensure understanding of the different and compounding barriers faced by women from First Nations communities, from different cultural backgrounds, or from other marginalised communities.

2.Bring an active gender lens to Australian climate and environmental policy‐making

2a) All climate and environment related policy development processes at all levels of government should include a gender lens.
Current federal policy development processes that should immediately look to include a gender lens include:
The National Climate Adaptation and Risk Program, including Australia’s first National Climate Risk Assessment, and the National Adaptation Plan.
The Net Zero 2050 Plan, including the six sectoral decarbonisation plans included in this policy development process. Notably, the Electricity and Energy sector plan is currently in development.
• The establishment of a new National Net Zero Authority, to support the transition to a clean energy economy for workers, communities, and industry. It is positive to note that a majority
of the Advisory Committee supporting the establishment of the Authority are women.
• Commitments outlined in the Nature Positive Plan, including the overhaul of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the introduction of a new and independent environmental regulator, Environment Protection Australia (EPA), and the establishment of Environmental Information Australia to provide reliable environmental data.

2b) Similarly, climate and environmental considerations should be included in all gender-based policy development.
It is essential to understand how the federal and state governments’ gender equality strategies will be affected by increasing climate and environmental impacts. Any funding or further policy development stemming from these strategies should include consideration of how climate and environmental impacts will intersect with the interests of women, girls, and gender diverse people.
Any further strategy and policy development at all levels of government should include climate and environmental impacts and solutions as a core lens.
2c) Gender responsive budgeting should be extended across all levels of government, including state and local government.
2d) Further research is required to increase understanding of the gendered nature of climate and environmental issues in Australia, including through an intersectional lens.
This should be a matter of priority for universities, research-oriented philanthropy, government, and impacted industry sectors.

3.Apply a gender lens to climate and environmental financing for impacts and solutions by industry, government, philanthropy, and the community sector

3a) Clear conditions should be attached to all government funding and investment that addresses climate and environmental issues and solutions, to ensure positive gender-based outcomes.

This could include:
• Quotas requiring 50% of government investment and funding programs to be awarded to projects owned and / or led by women or gender diverse people
• Clear requirements regarding diverse workforce development and community outcomes
• Requirements regarding gender impact assessments for project and program proposals

3b) Business investment into climate and environmental issues should similarly adopt a gender lens, to ensure that impacts and benefits have gender equitable outcomes.
3c) Grantmakers should be encouraged to use a gender-wise tool such as that developed by Australians Investing In Women.

4.Develop a Gender, Climate and Environment Strategy

Australia has international obligations under each of the three Rio conventions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) but to date, discussion of the gendered nature of these issues has focused upon the UNFCCC.

4a) In order for Australia to meaningfully meet its obligations under these conventions, we recommend the development of a Gender, Climate and Environment Strategy. This would enable Australia to detail how it is responding to and implementing gender action plans under these conventions, establish measures for evaluating progress, and develop best practice in gender-responsive climate and environmental policy-making that could be followed by state and local governments.

5.Funding and resources to address increasing climate and environmental disasters should include a clear gender lens

5a) Disaster response funding, including immediate recovery funding, should include a gender lens, recognising and responding to the different and often compounding impacts faced by women and gender diverse people during disasters.

5b) Further training for emergency service providers is required for the sector to better understand and respond to the links between gender and disasters.

5c) Funding and support for community-led preparation, resilience, and recovery work should be increased.

Given the prevalence of women-led activity of this nature, such funding will support communities
to be better prepared and respond to increased disasters and will address gender-based inequality within communities.

6.Include diverse voices and sectors in shaping environmental and climate solutions and responses

6a) Policy and investment decisions need to be underpinned by genuine collaboration and engagement with more diverse perspectives. However, there are significant barriers for some organisations and communities engaging in the numerous policy processes that will be required to inform a sustainable and equitable future.

Government and industry should proactively seek out, and where necessary fund, the inclusion of diverse and marginalised voices such as those from the women’s sector, the social sector, multicultural organisations and communities, First Nations communities, and women’s industry and workforce groups.

7.Centre a clean and caring economy

Underpinning all of these recommendations is the need to transform the way we think about our economy in the twenty-first century. Social and environmental factors influence and are influenced by economic factors, and feminist economic policy-making recognises these interconnections. Economic policies need to actively measure gendered and environmental impacts, as well as count the positive economic contributions made by care work and environmental values.

7a) As an initial step towards this goal, we recommend the adoption of a Climate Budget Statement at the federal, state and local government levels. Just as the Australian Government now issues a Women’s Budget Statement to measure the gendered impacts of each federal budget upon women, a climate budget statement would estimate the budget impact on climate and environmental issues, including their gendered dimensions.

Ultimately, it will be a long-term and whole of government endeavour to genuinely re-image how we measure economic goals and progress, and their relationships to people and places.

The report and the project which produced it was made possible by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Equity Trustees and we gratefully acknowledge their support.