Gender Relations and Women’s Vulnerability to Climate Change

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May 17, 2012

Jenny Jungehülsing

Based on a recognition of the significance of inequitable gender relations in terms of women’s vulnerability to climate change, and with the objective of investigating the possibilities of adaptation measures for contributing to greater gender equality, this study analyzes the way in which an adaptation measure carried out in the Mexican state of Tabasco has contributed to modifying gender relations. In the relocation program analyzed, implemented in response to severe flooding in 2007, the housing units built were granted to women.

The study is focused on strategic gender interests in three spheres in which this policy may have an impact. Specifically, women’s control over housing may: expand their access to economic resources through the establishment of businesses and access to credit; contribute to more equal decision-making and diminished control by men over women; and be a tool for reducing the level of intrafamily violence. The results demonstrate that granting housing to women indeed contributes to establishing the foundations for greater gender equality. However, it has not been possible to realize all of this measure’s potential. On the one hand, control over housing increases women’s self-confidence and sense of security, and in many cases it alters the power relations within the family, with consequences particularly for intrafamily violence.

Many women, because they are owners of their homes, begin to defend themselves against mistreatment by their husbands. Still, women’s access to economic resources has not, in general, improved. The overall conditions of the relocation program have even, in most cases, reduced this access: the long distance between the new housing projects and the capital city of Villahermosa, and thus, sources of employment, makes it difficult for women to have remunerated work, and in only a few cases has the new housing opened the way for women to generate their own income by creating micro-businesses. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure, particularly in terms of childcare facilities, increases their reproductive workload considerably, and reduces the time they have available for extra-domestic work. As well, women’s increased power within the home is generally limited to the matter of violence. In most cases, their negotiating power in terms of important decisionsrelated to making investments, remodeling the home and seeking remunerated work, for example, has not expanded as a result of home ownership.|

The conclusion, therefore, is that granting housing to women has contributed to establishing the foundations for modifying gender relations in the housing projects studied. However, in order to realize the full potential represented in this strategy, it is important to modify the conditions obstructing the realization of this potential- -particularly women’s access to economic resources.

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