Making gender equality a global and local reality
The UNFCCC has taken significant steps to promote women's increased participation in the global climate change negotiations process. It's a gain for gender equality, but gaps remain.
In 2012, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognised the need for a more balanced representation of men and women in the climate negotiations. They adopted a decision to promote the goal of gender balance in negotiating bodies and in country delegations [PDF] at the Doha climate change conference and added the issue of 'gender and climate' as a standing item on the agenda of their annual meetings (gender equality issues were previously only considered under 'Other Matters').
Promoting gender equality to get climate change policies responding to everyone's needs has become a unifying issue in an otherwise difficult negotiating atmosphere.
The importance of women's active participation, leadership, freedom of choice and voice is increasingly being recognised in development-related fields. For example, at the Rio+20 conference on Sustainable Development, world leaders recognised gender equality as a vital aspect of sustainable development, reaffirming women’s critical contribution. Women were seen as actors, not just as victims or vulnerable beneficiaries.
In other areas too, from REDD+ to what should be on the UN post-2015 development agenda and in Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality is becoming more prominent. You can read about the discussions we had in the report of the Wilton Park conference on post-2015 development framework: priorities for the least developed countries).
Bearing the brunt of climate change impacts
While efforts to increase the level of women's participation globally in the UNFCCC and other global bodies and conferences are important, girls and women living in countries affected by climate change are feeling the brunt of its impact on their lives. Climate change often makes existing social inequalities worse. As the primary collectors of food and water in many parts of the world, for example, women and girls are having to spend more time on this task. This burden is likely to increase, reducing the time they have left to go to school, visit their doctor or carry out income-generating activities.
Climate change affects women and men in distinct ways. How individuals cope with the immediate and longer-term impacts of climate change depends on their livelihoods, access to resources, job opportunities, education, health services, skills and capabilities, and socially ascribed roles and responsibilities, among other things.
Gaps and challenges
A great deal of progress has been made in bringing gender equality issues to the forefront of the global climate change response. But what gaps and challenges remain?
One key message to come out of a recent IIED workshop on integrating gender into environment and development work was that measures should aim to correct the inherent causes of gender inequality in order to be truly transformative.
Other important messages from the workshop were:
- Look at power relations and inequality. Consider how power relations and gender inequalities intersect with other forms of inequality (created by factors such as social status, class, ethnicity, age, and health) to identify who is vulnerable and build 'resilience' to climate change (and other impacts of environmental change)
- Think local. Rio+20 and UNFCCC rhetoric focuses on the global context, directing attention away from the local, but gender relations are affected by the local environment and other factors. Look at the local context and all aspects of environmental change to understand and address inequality
- Evidence. We need to develop a more robust evidence base with sex-aggregated data. Data is not just about counting the number of women present at a meeting; it's about measuring inequality gaps between women and men in a variety of contexts, and progress in narrowing these gaps
- Act. This analysis needs to be backed up by a strong commitment to address the structural foundations of inequality. When we do act, we must be wary of seeing women as resources (for instance as additional labour) to reach an environmental goal (such as responding to climate change), adding to their already onerous responsibilities.
The policy briefing from the workshop explores these issues further.