Women must participate in all aspects of climate change debate, in particular decision-making on adaptation, mitigation, say speakers in women's commission

from UN Commission on the Status of Women
Published on 28 Feb 2008

Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-second Session
8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Panel Addresses 'Gender Perspectives on Climate Change' Commission Also Hears 33 More Speakers in Continued General Debate

With women making up the majority of the poor in developing countries and in communities that are highly dependent on natural resources, experts participating in the work of the Commission on the Status of Women today argued that practical solutions to the escalating global warming crisis hinge on women's participation in all aspects of the climate change debate, including mitigation and adaptation.

During a lively interactive discussion on 'gender perspectives on climate change', the emerging issue the Commission had chosen to consider during its current session, a diverse panel of experts cited numerous studies showing that global warming was not a gender-neutral process. When natural disasters struck or severe weather changes occurred, they affected men and women differently, because, in most cases, their roles and responsibilities were based on inequalities.

To make matters worse, women were also underrepresented in decision-making about climate change and, most critically, in discussions and decisions about adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk management. The panel called on Governments -- and the members of the Commission -- to empower women to participate in planning and decision-making, especially towards the development and implementation of gender-sensitive policies and programmes.

'When women's rights are not protected, more women than men will die from disasters,' said Lorena Aguilar, Senior Adviser to the World Conservation Union, who decried the fact that the climate change debate had mostly been 'gender blind'. But women were powerful agents for change and their leadership should be considered one of the priorities in adaptation and risk reduction strategies. 'The issue of climate change is too important to ignore the voice of half the world's population,' she added.

Further, given that gender equality was a prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty reduction, the inequalities that were magnified by climate change slowed progress towards those goals as well. Therefore, she called for, broader support for the development of a gender strategy or plan of action within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the establishment of a system for Governments to use gender-sensitive indicators and criteria when they reported to the Convention's Secretariat.

Minu Hemmati, of Women for Climate Justice (GenderCC), said that, as the international community geared up to draft, by the end of 2009, a post-Kyoto Protocol strategy to protect the Earth's climate, ensuring women's voices in the process was of the utmost urgency. 'This process will need a lot of awareness-building,' she said, because neither the Framework Convention nor the Protocol mentioned women or gender. And, even though it appeared that attitudes were changing and gender equality was now seen by some as a core principle of mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts, women's participation in relevant negotiations must be consistent and continuous.

'The expertise is not there and needs to be brought in at national and international levels,' she continued, urging the members of the Commission to go back to their respective environment ministers and press for such participation. 'Don't mind the raised eyebrows,' she said. Women's advocates must 'talk up' the visible effects of climate change, from increasing desertification to increasing and more intense flooding worldwide, and their impacts on women, as well as men and societies as a whole. 'We must make this a conversation about sustainable development. I think that is the goal,' she concluded.

Rachel Nampinga, Programmes Director of Eco-Watch Africa, said that, in many cases, women's economic livelihoods and social roles relied directly on forest resources, so they were, therefore, disproportionately harmed by deforestation and had stronger interests than men in forest preservation. In Africa, girls and women spent long hours every day collecting wood, agricultural residues and dung for use as fuel; such time could be used for more productive activities. Their educational and income-generation opportunities were limited by a lack of modern energy services, keeping their families trapped in poverty.

Echoing the other experts, she said women's participation in decision-making and in mitigation and adaptation instruments was still very low. Since male perspectives dominated in climate protection and planning processes, mechanisms created thus far failed to take into account the practical and strategic needs of women. 'But the most vulnerable groups to climate change should be involved in developing adaptation and mitigation strategies,' she said, noting that African women were beginning to play important roles in tropical forest preservation. For example, in Zimbabwe, women's groups managed forest resources and development projects through woodlot ownership, tree planting and nursery development.

The panel, which was moderated by Commission Vice-Chairperson Ara Margarian ( Armenia), also included Anastasia Pinto, adviser to the Centre for Organization, Research and Education, and Woro B. Harijono, Director-General of the Meteorological and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia.

The Commission also continued its general debate today, hearing from some 33 delegations, which included representatives of several civil society groups, who touched on some other key topics. A speaker for the Coalition against Trafficking in Women said that trafficking in women and children was one of the most devastating forms of gender-based violence. Worse, it was on the rise, because it was being driven, in many parts of the world, by lax attitudes towards prostitution. Prostitution should not be labelled 'sex work', as if it were just another ordinary job. It should be seen as codifying male sexual privilege and a driver of a vicious cycle that included sexual trafficking and exploitation.

On gender-responsive budgeting, a representative of the Asia-Pacific Caucus said that State commitments on financing for gender equality had not gone far enough. Indeed, there remained a gap between commitments and full implementation on the ground, as practical application of plans and policies was challenged by non-effective financing. Millions of women in the Asia-Pacific, therefore, lacked sustainable livelihoods and full health care and lived in fear of violence and abuse. With all that in mind, she said, the achievement of full gender equality required more effective and widespread implementation and monitoring of gender-responsive budgeting, with gender impact statements included in national budgets.

Also participating in the general discussion were the Ministers of Gender and Women's Affairs of Zimbabwe and Kenya, and the Vice-Minister of Burundi.

The discussion also included interventions from senior Government officials of Turkey, Syria, Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jamaica, Cambodia, Netherlands, Viet Nam, Kuwait, Thailand, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Barbados, Spain, Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines, Armenia and Fiji, as well as statements by representatives of Japan, Denmark, Malta, Uganda and Portugal.

Also participating were representatives from several non-governmental organizations, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie and the Council of Lebanese Women.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 29 February, to hold a panel discussion to evaluate progress in the implementation of the agreed conclusions on 'women's participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peacebuilding'.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its general debate and consider follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled 'Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century'. It was also expected to hold a panel discussion on gender perspectives and climate change.