FEATURE: “W+ Standard” can track if climate projects benefit women
Areej Riaz of CDKN interviews Dr Nisha Onta, Knowledge Management Coordinator at Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), about the W+ standard and how it measures and verifies the inclusion of gender aspects in climate change projects.
Women’s contribution of social and economic benefits to their communities is steadily being recognised and appreciated by governments, development partners and the private sector. Women are also vital and underappreciated actors in the fight against climate change.
A CDKN research project in India has documented the particular way women are impacted by climate change, and the unique opportunities and challenges they face in adapting to these impacts. It has also shown that India’s climate plans, and adaptation practice in general, does not adequately recognise gender difference. As a CDKN short documentary on the subject has observed, women are ‘missing’ from India’s climate change plans.
WOCAN is pioneering an approach to mainstreaming the gender dimension to both climate change and development. The organisation supports women’s leadership and advocacy for women’s empowerment; it is working with practitioners to measure the extent to which projects on the ground are truly ‘gender inclusive’ and making measurable changes in women’s lives. In 2012, WOCAN launched the W+ standard, a unique certification label that endorses projects that create increased social, environmental and economic benefits for women.
One of the reasons why WOCAN decided to design this standard was that women globally are paid less than men and less than their due and they also reinvest most of their income into family or back to the community. It therefore is logical for the government and development partners to invest in women so that they reinvest into the community, a trend for various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies in the last decade.
At the same time, a concept called ‘pinkwashing’ has emerged. Pinkwashing tries to portray projects/ programmes or organisations as gender progressive, for example, proclaiming that certain activities contribute towards finding the cure for breast cancer, but they generally lack validation (see the article: Pinkwashing for profits).
“We recognised the need tomake the private sector accountable as they aren’t generally liable, so we developed the W+ standard to certify projects claiming to empower women by measuring and verifying the values of the claimed benefits,” explained Dr Nish Onta.
The standard is straightforward; it can be applied to an existing or a new project on economic development or environmental sustainability. The projects must plan and measure progress for women against at least one of six domains: time, income/assets, education/knowledge, health, food security and/or leadership. The outcomes are monitored, audited and verified by an external auditor. The project will be certified a specific number of units, which can be sold to companies pursuing CSR and others, on the condition that half of the revenues generated by selling these units are returned to the women in the community.
“The idea is to allow investors to make a quantifiable impact in the lives of women around the world, while guaranteeing measurable and verifiable results,” Dr Onta said.
As part of creating the methodology, the WOCAN team, in partnership with the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) in Nepal and with technical assistance from the South Pole Group, conducted research using the Biogas Distribution Program that distributed biogas systems to 7200 women users in Nepal. The consultations and surveys of biogas users helped to quantify time saved by these women in collecting fuel wood. This allowed them to test the W+ time methodology, which is converted into ‘W+ time units’ that can be sold. They also identified mechanisms from revenue sharing with women beneficiaries.
“We started the pilot project by looking at co-benefits, the direct effects on community and impacts on women that were measurable” explained Dr Onta. The team found that biogas units saved 231 hectares of forest from clear felling, reduced 4 tons of carbon per year, and provided users with organic fertilisers, improved sanitation and indoor air quality. In addition, each biogas user saved 2.2 hours every day on cooking, fuel wood collection and organic fertiliser production. This co-benefit of saving time for women generated W+ units which investors can purchase to support women’s empowerment. Purchasing these units allows investors to drive positive social change for women and economic wins for local communities, because half of the profits from the sales of the W+ Units return to women and benefit their families and communities.
The response from investors and project developers has so far been positive. The private sector has seen this as an opportunity to make good use of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments, whilst other organisations such as IUCN have requested support through training on gender sensitivity for project implementers to fully understand the benefits. Although some projects focused on carbon reduction have questioned the missing carbon footprint element, WOCAN plans to further develop and refine the methodology.
“There will be criticisms and challenges on the road; from organizations, and researchers. We want them to criticise because we need this to be perfect,” Dr Onta said.
WOCAN is currently developing a methodology for measuring domains other than time and guidelines for project developers on integrating the gender element from the beginning of the design of a project. Through these components and modules, WOCAN aims to integrate gender fully in project planning; helping define strategic needs and gender roles.
“Projects considering incorporating gender into the fabric of their design need to start at the early stage. They could contemplate this opportunity; use this as a gender analysis tool based on a concrete methodology and think of ways in which revenues can be returned to women. The momentum is growing; not just donors but private sector understands how women get the money back to them.”
“There is still a long road ahead of us. Gender needs to be mainstreamed – maybe with a global green economy strategy that includes gender as a major target in development planning or through climate investment funds. Like the women moving millions project, there is need to look at how to invest in women. The leadership roles that women take go unnoticed. WOCAN wants to change this.”
Image: girls at school. Courtesy World Bank image library.