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OPINION: Women to inject new energy into climate and development policies

CoP18 in Doha may be remembered as the conference where women’s voices rang out for change. Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports.

An agreement on women’s equal participation in the UN climate talks provided heartening news in an otherwise downbeat first week of negotiations in Doha. Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted a proposal that women should make up a far greater proportion of negotiators in the international process than at present. The move comes with a guarantee of funds to support this goal – and it will take effect almost immediately.

This agreement was a bright spot in a week when countries re-stated their previous positions on the (other) big issues up for grabs and little else was new. The breakthrough on women’s participation will do much to address what Bridget Burns of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) has called the prevalence of “men in blue suits” in the global climate talks until now.

This news on women’s participation was part of a larger ‘buzz’ on the subject. A number of calls to action and side events at the CoP (such as the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change – Women for Results showcase) have celebrated women’s leadership in climate compatible development at community and national levels. And, if it is any indication of the zeitgeist, CDKN’s publication on Women and Climate Change has been flying off the shelves. Many of the public events here have featured Mary Robinson, whose civil society-based leadership has been conspicuous (see Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice).

CDKN debates gender and climate change

During the same weekend as the UNFCCC agreement was reached on women’s participation in the negotiations, CDKN held a side event on ‘Gender at the centre of climate compatible development.’ CDKN’s event brought together dozens of partners from our network and provided the chance to reflect more broadly on how women can be equal partners and beneficiaries in creating green growth and climate resilience.

Speakers at CDKN’s event included the Hon Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell, Minister for Gender, Government of Liberia, Cate Owren, Executive Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO),  Aira Kalela, Senior Adviser to Finnish Government on Climate Change and Gender,  Mary Barton-Dock, Director of the Climate Policy and Finance Department at the World Bank, and Matthew Wyatt, Head of Climate and Environment Group at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Speakers argued that equitable outcomes for women cannot be achieved without effort. They do not just happen. The Hon Ms. Julia Duncan-Cassell declared that this week’s UNFCCC agreement on equal representation had been ‘hard fought’ by tireless campaigners over several years. Matthew Wyatt noted that DFID began to address gender concerns in its programming years ago and felt gender had become mainstreamed, but on recent evaluation, the agency realised it needed to reinvigorate its efforts. “We’ve got to guard against complacency,” he said. “We’ve been trying for years to get gender at the heart of development and yet we still see we have a lot to do. We really need to learn from each other.”        What’s more, he said, efforts to increase female opportunity must start with giving girls enhanced life choices.

Recognising women’s achievements and linking to policy

Although there is considerable discrimination against women in society, efforts to integrate gender in climate compatible development do not begin from a standing start. As Cate Owren argued, “in this climate change field, we have a tendency to homogenise women and think of them as being vulnerable and victims, but this only gets us so far, as this has to be a solutions-orientated process. Connecting this process with what is happening at the community level is where we are going to find the seeds of change.” Indeed, many women’s groups, unions and alliances are already working on sustainable development solutions at the grassroots level and they are highly capable. These efforts need to be recognised and valued, and connected to policy processes.

I listen [to debates] about agriculture and think of issues of scale,” said Ms Owren. “In Least Developed Countries, women are primary food producers and they are putting food on the table. At what level (of agriculture), we say: what is replicable, what is scalable? Is that going to work for women’s groups and networks – where are those lessons and how can it key into these decisions at the decision making level?

Mary Barton-Dock described how the World Bank attempts to mainstream gender considerations in its lending policies. She suggested that to achieve the greater progress on strengthening women’s community-level effort and connecting it to policy, as Ms Owren proposed, it may be necessary to earmark special funding for grassroots groups.

Some developing countries are explicitly integrating climate and gender goals in policy. Liberia is a front-runner with its development of a gender sensitive climate change strategy. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN’s Asia Director and Chairman of the event, highlighted CDKN’s work to integrate gender concerns into governmental policies at the state level in India. He announced that the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments have now agreed to make provisions for gender in their State Climate Change Action Plans.

Aira Kalela, a long-time women’s advocate, said that capacity building, training, and information are all needed to connect women’s on-the-ground efforts with policy processes.  She and other speakers emphasised the importance of a sound evidence base that not only documents the effects of climate change on lives and livelihoods by gender, but also captures the quantitative contributions that women are making to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

To return to the earlier theme of this blog, the work to address these gaps takes persistence – there’s no time like the present to gear up those efforts.


Photo courtesy of IISD/ENB

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