At this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP27, gender equality and women’s rights activists and organizations are demanding to be included in climate action. “Women’s rights, as well as their voices, need to be emphasized at COP27,” says Salma Zulfiqar, founder and director of ARTconnects, campaigning for world leaders at COP27 to have greater inclusion of women in climate policy.
“There is a huge intersection between climate change and women’s rights” explains Ms. Zulfiqar as the “devastating effects [of climate change] directly impact women and their livelihoods”. Thus, she adds, “a fight against climate change is now becoming a fight for women’s rights”.
According to Carmen Capriles of Bolivia-based climate change organization Reacción Climática, the organizations at COP27 are advocating for a gender action plan that would “mainstream gender around the Framework Convention on Climate Change” as well as having a gender aspect in negotiations. Furthermore, activists and civil society organizations at COP27 are pushing to see the gender aspect of climate policies and legislation as a result of the conference and “how they are implemented”.
Effect of Climate Change on Women
Like many other crises, climate change disproportionately affects girls and women who are forced to bear the brunt of its impact. Their vulnerability to climate change is due to several factors – social, economic, and cultural. The majority of people living in poverty are women and ‘women represent a high percentage of poor communities highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood’. Despite all this, women have been historically underrepresented at the UN’s climate summit.
According to UN Women, women around the world are more dependent on natural resources but have less access to them. In low- and lower-middle income countries, women mostly work in agriculture, and thus bear the added responsibility of providing food, water, and fuel. They have to produce for themselves and their families, take care of the elderly and children as well as farming animals such as cattle. Thus, “when climate change strikes,” women are negatively affected and “have to be on the frontline” of the climate fight, says Ms. Capriles.
UN Women data shows that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women, and “alarmingly” women are 14 times more likely to die in a natural disaster, says Ms. Zulfiqar. For example, in many cultures, it is not a priority to teach women to swim so when tsunamis and floods occur, “women have less possibility to survive” says Ms. Capriles. In addition, per Ms. Capriles, across the world there is “a gap between men and women for access” which is only worsened by climate change.
Women – at the Center of Climate Activism
Women, especially young women, have been at the forefront of climate activism for a while now. Greta Thunberg, has inspired millions of young women to get involved in the climate movement as well as challenging world leaders to do more through her passionate and powerful speeches at various world forums. She started campaigning for climate action at 15 by protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament, which spurned the Fridays for Future movement. She has attended several UN Climate Change Conferences and other summits, though she is best known for her ‘How dare you?’ speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.
While Greta Thunberg is one of the most well-known environmental activists, many of the activists involved in the movement are young women. Representation of women in climate negotiations such as the UN Climate Conference as well as in climate action is thus extremely important.
Gender and women’s rights activists and groups at COP27 are pushing for more inclusion of women in climate negotiations, in climate action, in climate policy and legislation. As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
According to Elise Buckle of Climate & Sustainability and SHE Changes Climate, the COP Presidency team should have a 50% gender quota and the country hosting [the conference] “must walk the talk”. Thus far, only 4 COP presidencies were headed by women and last year’s conference was the least diverse with women leading only 39% of delegations and 34% of the committees. This year, only 7 of the 110 world leaders at the conference [COP27] are women.
“We are one team for one planet,” adds Ms. Buckle, stressing that “we must all work together to look after Mother Earth”. That includes women, young people and people of different identities and backgrounds to create “healthy systems for society” she says. Diversity is crucial for taking climate action and that includes women, especially indigenous women and women of marginalized communities.