Though women internationally are more negatively affected by the impacts of climate change women’s voices are disproportionally represented in decisions relating to action against climate change. Not only are the majority of the world’s poor are women, but cultural attitudes towards women create barriers to their participation in climate action. While in developing areas heavily impacted by climate change, such as sub-Saharan Africa, women make up the majority of the food-producing workforce, women are also more affected by food shortages with female health being more strongly impacted than men’s in times of shortage. Lower social and economic status of women – meaning that women, for example, do not learn how to swim or cannot attend relief centres alone - can mean that a higher proportion of women die as a result of natural disasters.
Libya and Somalia are two such developing countries in which cultural attitudes mean women are likely to suffer the impacts of climate change more than men, but both countries sent a set of all-male delegates to COP23. The gender imbalance of decision making bodies and labour markets, which are largely male-dominated, with 62% male to 38% female party delegations attending COP23, often mean women are unable to contribute equally to climate-related policy making and implementing action against climate change.
COP23 Gender Day at COP23, which took place on Tuesday 14th November, hosted a set of talks aiming to demonstrate how gender-responsive climate policy and action can provide economic benefits to communities and create opportunities for raising ambition under national climate plans, while improving the lives of people, in particular women and girls, internationally. Discussions focused around women as leaders, innovators, and agents of the change that the challenge of climate change and achieving sustainable development demands.
Angie Dazé, a representative from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, spoke on the importance of working out what role gender plays in the data on climate change action already collected, suggesting that analysis on social interactions between men and women deserves addressing. Noting the need for more research, she identified common themes and shared key findings, including the fact that most countries are trying to include gender sensitivity as a priority; most women are positioned as a vulnerable group, as opposed to agents of change; and more consistent and deeper gender integration is needed. She argued that an effective climate change narrative must be broadened and look at the underlined inequalities, usually linked to social norms. On next steps for the National Adaption Plan process, she suggested targeted gender analysis, and taking steps towards ensuring gender-balanced participation in decision-making.
Winnie Lichuma, National Gender and Equality Commission, Kenya, noted that implementation of the Paris Agreement can only happen at the country level: she stressed the need for national measures to mainstream climate and gender-sensitive policies. She lamented the use of external professionals working to formulate climate change strategies in developing countries, because they often miss the point of local sensitivities, arguing that country-level mechanisms are essential for gender-related change. On climate negotiations, she called for quicker acknowledgement of gender opportunities to enhance parties’ collaboration and declared: “Siting at the table does not necessarily transform societies. We need to build capacity for women.”
Other key themes of the discussion included the need to implement new modes of allocating resources so as to make financial and material support more accessible for women; ensure more extensive data and research into links between gender and climate change action; and improve the participation of men in the discussion of climate change and gender by working to change perspectives and social norms.
From the discussions on Gender Day, it is evident that the gender disparities both in those affected by climate change and those involved in decision-making processes with relation to climate change need to be addressed – it is now up to the delegates to ensure that these suggestions for improvement become policy in the outcome of COP23.