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‘We need projects that address gender and climate justice together’

The inclusion of women and increased gender equality can have a positive impact on the environment, a panel discussion hosted by insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney has revealed. 

user iconLauren Croft 23 March 2022 Big Law
‘We need projects that address gender and climate justice together’
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For International Women’s Day this year – and following the United Nations theme Changing climates: Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, Wotton + Kearney hosted a panel event discussing how women are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.

The panel, which was moderated by W+K partner Charu Stevenson and included keynote speaker Dr Keely Boom, executive officer of Climate Justice Programme, human rights lawyer Kavita Naidu, and W+K partner Mark Anderson, also discussed how inclusion of women’s leadership is vital to finding effective solutions and provided practical suggestions on how the insurance industry and the individuals working in these areas could make a difference.

Dr Boom spoke from her home, which has been flooded for the past week.


“In experiencing these floods, and hearing about the experiences of others, I have been filled with that feeling of dread that overwhelmed me during the bushfires of 2019-2020. The fears that I had when my husband went missing for 24 hours stuck in a firestorm, and I made excuses to my children about why he wasn’t with us to celebrate the new year. 

“The fears I had when the fires came through the farms of family members. The fears I had when we lost all communications and I didn’t know if family or friends were safe, or if I was safe. The fears I had when I managed to reach town and found that we had no food coming into our community because every road had been cut by the fires,” she said.  

“The fears I had when a firefighter told me to do everything I could to get out of the South Coast because there was nowhere that was safe. And ultimately, the fears that I had as a mother that this place, this world, is becoming uninhabitable, in what appears to be a slow and silent process, but then leaps upon us with a ferocity that leaves us struggling for our own survival.”

Ms Naidu, who works with grassroots women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region, added that women and girls suffer the worst impacts of climate change. 

“These women and girls are uneducated, they work very long hours, are unpaid or poorly paid for their work, raise their children, look after the elderly, they travel long distances to collect water, food and graze their animals,” she explained. 

“As the increasing heat destroy their lands, and as water and food sources diminish, as they are displaced from rising sea levels, cyclones, droughts and floods, as their health deteriorates, as they are forcibly married, sold or suffer sexual violence from rising conflicts”. 

While greater gender equality may exist in Australia, the panel stressed that we still have a long way to go. The Royal Commission into National Disaster Arrangements found that natural disasters are often linked with increased rates of family violence: after the 2009 Victorian bushfires, women residing in highly affected communities were seven times more likely to experience violence compared to low impact communities. Similar statistics have emerged from the 2019-2020 bushfires. 

Dr Boom explained that during natural disasters, the weather can discriminate and often leave women with less.

“Women have lower incomes than men, meaning that they also have less access to credit, education, technology, resources, and insurance. Women have less assets and resources, and as a result have less ability to draw upon these to support their recovery after disasters,” she said. 

“Yet, in their traditional roles as unpaid carers, it is women who generally take on additional care responsibilities during disasters. We have seen this through COVID, where women’s careers and pay were the most impacted due to the increased load of unpaid domestic and caring work”.

“We need to see projects that address both gender and climate justice together to create solutions that are implemented by those most impacted. Research shows that women’s leadership and equal participation result in better outcomes for climate policy, reducing emissions, and protection of land.”

Because of this, the insurance industry is currently implementing positive strategies and delivering products to adapt in the face of increasing incidence and severity of extreme weather events and the evolving risks of a changing climate. However, Mr Anderson said that more work is needed in the sector. 

“Insurers are working hard to establish policies and procedures that support climate change needs – for example, underwriting climate adaption products (solar/wind energy projects) and phasing out support of distressed high-carbon (coal/gas) risks on their portfolios. However, they have a role of stewardship to ensure that these policies are developed in a way to ensure a just transition to a zero-carbon world and don’t exacerbate inequalities,” he said.

“Insurers need to expressly consider the real impacts and consequences on gender equity, racial and social inequality because the consequences of failing to address these factors are as grave as reducing emissions themselves. Comprehensive climate change reporting programs, as will be required by mandatory reporting legislation coming in New Zealand and Australia, will compel the insurance industry to take onboard that stewardship role.”