Climate policies must not be gender-blind, as climate change does not affect men and women equally
Last week marked a milestone in the advancement of gender equality and women's empowerment. In Bonn, world leaders at the United Nations climate negotiations (COP23) under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed and adopted the first ever Gender Action Plan to not only recognize but also strengthen and empower the role of women throughout climate action and policy.
This robust plan is the culmination of 12 years of advocacy that has been led by women from all over the world. From Peru to France and Morocco, and with support from numerous countries in hosting and facilitating international dialogue on pushing this agenda forward, the final text was tabled by a coalition of eight countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
This plan will pave the way for increasing women's involvement in climate action while ensuring gender considerations are incorporated in the implementation of climate policies at all levels.
Climate policies must not be gender-blind, as climate change does not affect men and women equally. Our message to COP23 was clear: for women and men, particularly in the global South, "closing gender gaps - being gender-responsive - is a matter of life and death".
Women bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of climate change because of their marginalized social, economic and political status in much of the world. Changing temperatures and land erosion require women to travel further to collect natural resources like water and fuel wood, for example, increasing their vulnerability to sexual violence. Extreme weather events are more likely to kill women and also leave them with few resources to rebuild their lives due to their limited legal assets and rights to property.
Too often, women are unable to fully contribute to climate-related planning and implementation. Yet their local knowledge, management of resources, and development of sustainable practices at the household and community level make them critical to successful climate action.
Women in Bangladesh have installed close to a million solar home units. Across villages in India, women are developing cleaner cook stoves. In areas most devastated by land erosion, women are pioneering new methods of conservation.
At a local level, we know that women's leadership has led to improved outcomes of climate-related projects and policies that are responsive to citizens' needs. Conversely, when grassroots and indigenous women are excluded, policies or projects can increase existing inequalities and decrease effectiveness.
Women's participation in climate action has been identified as a priority in the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 13 calls for "urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts" and significantly focuses on the need to elevate the voices of women, youth, and local and marginalized communities.
Over the past decade, the U.N. climate change body has taken more than 60 gender-related climate decisions. Indeed, the Paris Agreement preamble references the connections between gender, the environment, and climate change. These decisions highlight the role of women in local and marginalized communities in climate change planning and management, as well as the need to build their capacity and empower them as key actors in climate action. It is time to turn good intentions into concrete actions; the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan calls for this.
Adopted at COP23, the Gender Action Plan will transform these commitments into a catalyst for equitable change by providing guidance to countries on implementing these decisions, particularly as related to policy-making, sector-specific policy design, financing, and monitoring and evaluation.
- The plan increases access to gender-sensitive education and training, from local to national levels, on all mitigation and adaptation activities implemented under the UNFCCC, including the Paris Agreement.
- It promotes the means and funds to support the participation of women in national delegations, particularly those from local, grassroots, and indigenous communities.
- It builds capacity for participants in the U.N. climate conference on how to integrate gender considerations and meet gender balance goals.
- It emphasizes gender-responsive access to finance as well as gender-responsive budgeting by governments in the implementation of climate action.
Recent headlines should move all of us to a greater sense of urgent action on climate change. In India, the Delhi government ordered all schools to close due to deteriorating air quality. Year-by-year, inch-by-inch, island nations in the Pacific are engulfed by rising sea levels, while the United States and Caribbean continue to grapple with the aftermath of destructive hurricanes exacerbated by global warming.
Climate change represents the greatest global threat we face together: it will require all of us to mobilize and react to ensure we conserve a sustainable future. The Gender Action Plan enables us to ensure that the future is not only sustainable but also equitable and truly advances the rights and needs of ALL people. The empowerment of women and girls in this global response to climate change will result in stronger and better outcomes.
None of us can afford to be on the sidelines and the world cannot shortchange the critical participation of women. We must ensure that the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan will be fully implemented at both domestic and international levels to advance our future and perpetuity - equitably. It is time.
Melanne Verveer is the Executive Director of Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She previously served as the U.S. Ambassador for Global Women's Issues.
Lorena Aguilar is the Director a.i. for The Global Programme on Governance and Rights, and serves as the Global Senior Gender Advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's largest and oldest international organization for conservation. She is also currently serving as a negotiator on behalf of her native Costa Rica to the UNFCCC at COP23, working with AILAC (the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean - Asociación Independiente de Latinoamérica y el Caribe).
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