What is the relevance of gender in the climate change negotiations?
With all the developments in the climate talks, Verona Collantes of UN Women hopes that this question will soon not need to be asked.
“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions especially at the community level,” the Filipina said.
Climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people the most, and according to the UN, women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor.
Collantes noted that women, especially indigenous women, are a large part of agriculture and sustainable forest management, which is why they must be represented in discussions on reducing forest-related emissions.
“When the man goes to earn a living, it’s the woman who becomes the chief of the household. It’s tied to the management of natural resources and livelihood, using fuel to warm their houses or cook their food, and fetching water–all of those have implications on climate change which, more and more, the parties to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] are increasingly recognizing,” she added.
Gender and poverty in the Dominican Republic
Several countries continue to call for gender to be better integrated in the new global climate agreement this week in the Geneva intersessional. One of them is the Dominican Republic, a small island nation in the Carribean. It was the eighth country most affected by climate change over the past two decades, according to the Germanwatch Long-Term Climate Risk Index.
Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs under the Dominican Republic’s vice presidency, has called not only for gender equality in relation to climate change, but also the need to recognize community-based knowledge and practices, particularly in relation to adaptation and technology transfer.
The country called for national adaptation planning to be based on gender-disaggregated data in the talks last Monday.
Cohn-Lois explained that while her entire country is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it is most noticeable in the poorest area near the southern border with Haiti.
“The area that has been the most affected by climate change is actually the poorest. Of the people living there, the most heavily impacted by climate change are women, many of which are actually heads of their families,” she said.
Cohn-Lois added that many of them are single mothers, with some taking care of both elderly and children. They face several challenges, including gaining access to clean water.
“Since the southern side is such an arid part, access to water is still an issue. They can only afford to buy water weekly or even biweekly and find a way to [store] it,” she said.
She also noted that they have a wind farm in the area which provides electricity to most of the houses there.
A history of gender in the climate talks
While the UN climate convention itself did not have a reference to gender, gender began to be integrated in the talks when the 2001 conference in Marrakech, Morocco came out with an agreement on improving women’s participation in all decision-making processes under the talks.
The issue then became dormant for almost 10 years, but the agreements in the Cancun, Mexico conference last 2010 are widely recognized as the turning point in the consideration of gender issues. The importance of gender equality and the effective participation of women were recognized in various agreements, including on adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, and capacity-building.
It was in the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar when gender issues officially became part of the agenda of the climate talks.
In 2013, a further workshop was held on gender, climate change, and the negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. At that stage, countries and observers alike submitted ideas on how to advance the gender balance goal. It was also in Warsaw when the UN climate secretariat reported that less than 30 percent of negotiators representing their countries were women.
And just last December, a two-year work program on gender was established in the Lima, Peru conference to look at gender issues across thematic areas of the talks, such as mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology. UN Women is currently preparing for another workshop in June for gender-responsive mitigation, as well as technology development and transfer.
“We look at it from the aspect of women’s participation in the development of technology, women’s access to those technologies. Are they part of the beneficiaries? Were they even thought of as beneficiaries in the beginning?” Collantes said.
She said women’s limitations must be factored into technology development, but clarified that the limitations are not intellectual and are rooted in society, such as the lack of encouragement of women to take up science degrees.