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Addressing the gender issue in climate change

  • Published at 12:01 am December 8th, 2016
Addressing the gender issue in climate change

The momentum achieved in Paris last year in embracing gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate change decisions and actions reached greater heights this year in Morocco at the 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP).

In Marrakech, the parties unanimously agreed to mainstream gender perspective in all action areas of the convention -- mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building. The decision also reinforces the 2014 Lima work program on gender and climate change for a period of three years.

Gender balance in UN climate change negotiations

The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was the key global policy that addressed women’s role as critical to solve poverty through building knowledge on resource management adhering to Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and the International Conference on Population and Development.

Though Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action emphasised on the turmoil that environmental degradation and global warming bring upon women living in vulnerable areas, it was only in 2001, for the first time in the history of UN Climate Change negotiations, that a decision to strengthen gender balance and improve women’s participation in all climate change relevant policies was adopted.

This benchmark decision regarding women’s active participation in climate change diplomacy under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies was taken forward in Doha at the 18th session of the COP that promoted the decision on gender balance and women’s presence in climate change negotiations for advancing gender-sensitive climate policy to guarantee women’s voices in the global climate change actions.

Later in 2014 at COP20 in Lima, parties undertook the Lima Work Program on gender and climate change, emphasising on the importance of coherence between gender-responsive climate policies and effective participation of women delegates in negotiations.

The two-year work program adopted at COP20 encouraged parties on building skills and awareness training for male and female delegates on climate change relevant policies and issues as well.

While it is the poor, developing nations that face the adverse effects of climate change more severely, the women living in these nations are the worst victims to its adverse effects

 The success on gender equality and gender mainstreaming at COP20 paved its way to COP21 in the landmark Paris Agreement (PA). In decision 1/CP.21 of the PA, parties recognise that: “Climate change is a common concern of humankind, parties should -- when taking action to address climate change -- respect, promote, and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities, and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women, and intergenerational equity.”

While the PA is great in many ways on the subject of gender participatory approach, the Moroccan COP of this year is far reaching in this regard through its overall gender-responsiveness and the decision to enhance the Lima work program on “gender and climate change” for another three years.

After 15 years from the first decision on women and gender under the UNFCCC, mainstreaming gender prospect in all aspects of the convention in the African COP of this year has marked itself as the first gender-inclusive climate deal to address gender equality, women’s empowerment issues, and gender-responsiveness while implementing climate change actions.

Status-quo of gender balance in climate change policies

Climate change is real, so are its impacts.

From raising the sea level to melting glaciers, the evidences of human-caused climate change due to global warming is irrefutable.

While it is the poor, developing nations that face the adverse effects of climate change more severely, the women living in these nations are the worst victim to its adverse effects. Yet, they are often neglected in climate change-related policy-making, planning, and implementation due to lower socio-economic status.

The prevalent patriarchal culture in these regions inhibits women from primary education, let alone awareness building trainings for climate change. The scenario is not so different in the national and global climate change decisions and policy-making.

In 2015, at UNFCCC negotiations, around 38% of all national party delegates and 24% of the heads of delegations were women, published on the Gender Climate Tracker App that was launched by the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) on the Gender Day of this year’s COP.

The statistics presented by WEDO show a notable distinction in gender imbalances across different regions.

While around 53% of the delegates from Eastern and Western Europe represent women, only around 29% of the delegates from Africa and the Asia-Pacific are women.

The research further shows, a steady rise in the participation of women in high-level UN climate change negotiations between 2008 and 2015, women delegates from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), African Group, and Organisation of The Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are still below 25%.

Though the urgency to improve participation of women delegates has been mentioned in global climate change decisions time and again, only a little has been achieved in representing women in major climate change decisions.

With an all-inclusive gender-balanced action decision at COP 22, the prospect to have women representation in reality, and not just in paper, has elevated.

Shaila Mahmud is a Bangladesh-based researcher and a Climate Tracker Fellow for COP22.

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