Global conferences, including the recent COP 27, have too few women. This is hurting the pace and quality of the fight against global warming.
World leaders at COP 27 gathered for the customary 'family photo'.
The lack of women's representation is evident in the United Nations 27th Climate Change Conference held in Egypt. Ahead of the opening ceremony of COP27, the 'family photo' of the world leaders only had seven women leaders, which raised many questions about the inclusion of women in the decision-making process.
Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative for Climate Change, Mary Robinson, said in an interview, “I recall the photograph of the Heads of State and Government at the start of this COP and we had to look for the women's faces. So many women said to me, is this the 21st century?”
According to a BBC study, women represent less than 34 per cent of the nation-negotiating teams at the United Nations conference in Egypt. As per the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), this is one of the lowest percentages of women present at these UN climate conferences. Despite being vulnerable to the effects of climate change, women are severely under-represented in the decision-making and negotiation process.
According to the UN Environment, 80 per cent of those displaced by climate change are believed to be women. The most disadvantaged groups are the ones who are most impacted by climate change, whether in developed or developing countries, which further aggravates the already existing gender gaps. Let's look at some aspects of how climate change affects women.
Women make up 75 per cent of the labor force in the agricultural sector, they are conventional water collectors and frequent farmers. Women spend more time than men in taking care of the needs of their families. Extreme weather conditions affect where people can find food, firewood, and clean water, imposing more work on women. Due to social and cultural norms, the basic needs of women are not met. Thus women in developing nations are the most vulnerable as they are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and are actively involved in agricultural work.
Climate change threatens the health of women by restricting access to services and healthcare and poses an increasing risk to maternal and child health. Extreme heat increases the rate of stillbirths. Climate change accelerates the spread of vector-borne diseases including malaria, dengue fever, and the Zika virus, which can result in poor maternal health and affect newborns.
Climate change leads to migrations, displacement and relocations, as people move from extreme weather conditions to a place which is less prone and has a moderate climate. As a result of this,
women are more vulnerable to violence, especially sexual abuse, when they are displaced or uprooted. In the emergency camps, women are at an increased risk of abuse and violence.
Indigenous people, especially women, are worst affected by climate change. They are directly impacted by environmental degradation like deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, and soil erosion, which is a major contributor to climate change. Given that, the majority of indigenous people are closely connected with the environment and rely on natural resources for their livelihoods.Climate change poses a danger to their livelihoods, identities, culture and way of life. They face a variety of societal and economic disadvantages such as violation of their human rights, lack of participation in decision and policy-making, and failure to secure their right to land.
Indigenous women are more vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation from both within and outside their communities. However, indigenous women are important change-makers in the fight against climate change, they are leading their communities into a sustainable future. The battle to preserve forests and biodiversity is being led by indigenous women. Climate policies and actions benefit when indigenous women participate because of their leadership and comprehensive nature-focused understanding. They are the guardians of their ancestor’s wisdom and are leading in the fight for environmental protection and promoting traditional ways to cope with climate change. For example - Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala have improved their resilience to climate change through traditional activities including seed exchange, adjusting agricultural calendars, and implementing various crop systems. Indigenous women have been pioneers and leaders in environmental protection and have lived with the effects of climate change for generations. Their knowledge and experience makes a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The representation of indigenous people in climate conferences can lead the world to sustainable living. The immense knowledge of benefits from forests and the traditional practices of indigenous women can help us in combating climate change.
Climate change affects us all, it is a threat to humanity but there is clear gender disparity in the decision-making process related to climate change. Despite some initiatives taken, women are still under-represented which can be seen at the recent climate conference.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change parties has stressed the significance of women's leadership in some significant decisions. The Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) was established in 2014 to advance gender equality and incorporate gender consideration into the work of Parties and to achieve gender-responsive climate policy and action.
Under the Lima Work Programme, a two-year Gender Action Plan (GAP) was adopted in 2017. It aims to make the institutions' activities "gender-responsive and transformative, and hence more effective, efficient and successful". The key areas of the plan are –
● Capacity-building, knowledge sharing and communication
● Gender balance, participation and women’s leadership
● Gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation
● Monitoring and reporting
In December 2019, an enhanced five-year plan was adopted. Despite these initiatives, no significant progress was made during the two weeks of negotiations at COP27 on the Gender Action Plan (GAP) review.
Women are at greater vulnerability to climate change and disproportionately suffer from its effects, women continue to be affected by underrepresentation and a sense of marginalization in the decision-making process.
There is still a long way to go to fully include women in the negotiation process, the absence of women will have an impact on the outcome of the negotiations. Without women's participation, the results of the negotiations may not necessarily be tailored according to the needs of women.
As women are directly affected by climate change, more than men, women can lead efforts to reduce disaster risk, help in fighting the climate crisis, and provide solutions which can cater to the needs of everyone and in the recovery of families and communities.
As per the United Nations, when their family life is affected, women tend to share information about community welfare which is crucial for the resilience and are more willing to adapt to environmental changes.
The presence of women is important as in recent years the intensity of climate change has increased, which can be seen from the floods in Pakistan to frequent heatwaves in Europe. There are many ways in which the inclusion of women can be ensured. In order to achieve gender equality, UN Women’s Executive Director Sima Bahous has outlined three key demands to COP27 .The first of these requests is to make "special measures," like quotas, to encourage women and girls to participate equally and meaningfully at all levels of leadership. The second request is to support a just transition for women through an alternative development model that would cover gender-responsive measures like preventing violence and effective healthcare systems. The third request is the need for global investments to amplify and support women's knowledge, skills, and resilience. According to her, these investments will remove the barriers for women and provide them protection.
The lack of female representation in climate action negotiations is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed adequately. Creating the space for women in climate action policies and decision-making infrastructure is one significant first step that would lead the way to better implementation of gender-neutral policies at the ground level as well. It can be safely said that the problem of climate change is bound to acutely affect the whole human population irrespective of gender categorisations. The acknowledgement of this fact is a crucial major step towards the inclusion of diverse voices in the climate action discourse.