Women have historically been underrepresented at the UN’s global conference on climate change, and this year’s COP 27 congregation in Egypt, was no exception. A photo of the heads of state and government representatives participating in the event—which went viral across social media, at the beginning of the summit—in fact, showcased the presence of only seven women leaders among the grand total of 110 attendees.
This skewed gender ratio, however, reflected the broader trend across delegation teams, which participated in negotiations on key climate issues such as funding, limiting the use of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, etc. As per an analysis
conducted by the BBC, women accounted for a mere 34 percent of the committee members in negotiations rooms with some country teams having more than 90 percent men.
The question, which therefore needs to be raised, is whether climate change mitigation, disaster reduction, and adaptation strategies can really be holistically developed without the inclusion of women—who comprise of nearly half of the world’s population.
Females are in fact, most disproportionately affected when disasters hit as they suffer greater economic repercussions, bear an additional burden of unpaid care and domestic work, have lesser access to resources, and are pushed to drop out of school or marry early to help manage the family’s financial stress.
Why climate action needs women?
According to the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), which tracks women’s participation in climate forum,the recent COP27 numbers represented one of the lowest concentrations
of women seen at the UN climate summit. These number have in fact, fallen from a peak of 40
percent women’s participation during COP24 in 2018 and despite the countries collective pledge
to increase female representation at these talks as early as 2011.
But given the gendered impact of the climate change, women and girls, need to be placed at the heart of intergovernmental climate negotiations. Females are in fact, most disproportionately affected when disasters hit as they suffer greater economic repercussions, bear an additional burden of unpaid care and domestic work, have lesser access to resources, and are pushed to drop out of school or marry early to help manage the family’s financial stress.
Even their responsibility to secure water, food, and fuel for their families becomes much more difficult during floods, droughts, or other climate-related crises, forcing them to travel to longer distances, putting their own health at risk. As per a new research
published by ActionAid, climate change also increases women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence, further bringing about damaging consequences for their reproductive as well as psychological health.
Inferring from this, there remains no doubt that climate change inevitably results in the exacerbation of gender inequalities. The world leaders, therefore, need to pay attention to the voices of these women—who continue to bear a differential impact—with mitigations strategies and negations being specifically tailored to the gender issues that women are confronted with during a climate-related crisis. Without this, the gendered injustice of climate change and the silent crisis for women will only get worse.
Women—just like any other member—impact the overall management of natural resources through the various roles that they play including in the economy, in households, and the society.
Besides, the goal of pursuing sustainable development and bringing about gender equality are intrinsically linked, and one cannot be achieved without the attainment of the other. Women—just like any other member—impact the overall management of natural resources through the various roles that they play including in the economy, in households, and the society. Their inclusion in climate negotiations is thus, crucial to ensure the development and implementation of a balanced approach to the diverse dimensions of sustainable development such as the economic, social and environmental.
And least we forget, women and girls in all their diversity—for centuries—have played a transformative role in climate change adaptation as well as mitigation, and have been at the forefront of movements related to environmental and climate justice, putting forth some of the most creative and effective approaches for the promotion of sustainable energy transitions that help in the protection of local systems and are based on indigenous knowledge.
There, in fact, exists a growing body of evidence that shows the association between women’s participation and leadership in climate action, and better resource governance, conversation outcomes, and disaster readiness. This stands true, even for the private sector, where diversifying corporate boardrooms on the basis of gender have resulted in the adoption of more climate-friendly policies. For instance, according to a working paper series
by the European Central Bank, “a 1 percent increase in the share of female firm managers leads to a 0.5 percent decrease in CO2 emissions.”
Women—with their strong body of knowledge and expertise—should, thus, be recognised as co-owners and agenda-settlers of the climate process with their skills, knowledge and experience being utilised to improve climate governance outcomes at the local and national levels as well as in multilateral climate forums and the private sector.
What needs to be done?
There exists multiple ways for the adoption of such an inclusive approach—one that includes the voices of half the world’s population—in the decision-making process on environmental governance.
To begin with, measures, including quotas can be put in place to not only increase women’s meaningful participation and leadership at all levels of climate action decision-making but also to address persisting inequalities including in terms of their access and control of resources such as land, technology, and finance. With the adoption of these practices and measures, an increase in the number of party delegates—participating in climate debates, negotiations and development of mitigations strategies—which are women, will also be reflected.
Secondly, a conscious effort needs to be made by the policy makers to integrate a gender perspective across spectrums, ranging from design, monitoring and evaluation, implementation and funding of all national climate policies, plans and actions to ensure that the needs and concerns of women are being adequately addressed.
Along with this, member states must expand gender-responsive finance as well as gender-responsive public services, healthcare systems, universal social protections, combining measures both to eliminate gender-based violence in climate policies and to promote a care economy, thereby, guaranteeing the provision and access to justice for women.
A conscious effort needs to be made by the policy makers to integrate a gender perspective across spectrums, ranging from design, monitoring and evaluation, implementation and funding of all national climate policies, plans and actions to ensure that the needs and concerns of women are being adequately addressed.
Thirdly, heads of states must identify and implement ways to multiply gender equality, empowering women and young girls. To put it simply, global investments, especially for women and girls belonging to marginalise communities must be focused on directly amplifying and fostering their skills, resilience and knowledge, thereby, removing critical barriers that hinder their participation in decision-making positions.
In addition, women’s organisations—that play a stimulative role in the creation of community awareness on climate change and highlight its potential impacts on lives, livelihoods, environment and habitats along with plugging the gaps in research, which facilitates the development of policy, providing a space for dialogue and building institutional capacities to help individuals live a more sustainable life—must be supported in their work.
Climate change is a complex global phenomenon, which requires comprehensive global action that includes each and every individual. The UN Climate Change Conference—one of the biggest summit—instead of excluding women, should therefore, serve as an opportunity to recognise and augment the innovative climate actions that are being brought by women. It should also provide a platform for understanding how existing structures prevent women’s engagement and subsequently, develop response mechanisms with policy measures that take into account the immediate as well as long-term gendered impacts of environmental calamities.
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