Women must have a seat at the climate table

Strong women standing united for climate justice: Constance Okollet, Chairperson of the Osukuru United Women’s Network in Eastern Uganda, Mary Robinson, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad, and Thilmeeza Hussein, ClimateWiseWomen, at COP21 in Paris, December 2015.

This article by Mary Robinson was first published in Outreach, a multi-stakeholder magazine on climate change and sustainable development, on 9 December 2015.

Mary Robinson write in “Outreach” – Gender Day at COP21 provides an opportunity to reflect on the need for gender equality to inform the actions catalysed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Women account for 50 per cent of the world’s population but we do not have half of the decision-making power – not in any field, including in the design, planning and implementation of climate policy and action.

If we are to achieve gender equality we must enable women’s meaningful participation in all aspects of climate decision-making. Participation is a  human right, without which the range of rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be enjoyed. The right to participation is enshrined in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The climate agreement we are working on here in Paris must speak to people around the world because they will implement the actions needed to realise the agreement. Capturing gender equality and human rights in both the preamble and operative sections of the agreement to be reached in Paris this week would be a comprehensive step towards the realisation of a people-centred response to climate change. After all, the agreement is part of the transformation signalled by the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

If we are to deliver gender responsive climate action then we must enable women’s meaningful participation in climate action. This requires investment in training, capacity building and financial support. Ensuring that women’s voices are heard and their priorities supported is central to realising climate justice. Only if women are enabled to participate as equals in the design of climate policy – so that their needs are considered and reflected in these policies – will we succeed. This is why gender equality and human rights have to be at the heart of the Paris climate agreement.

It is important to note that across the globe, women play an essential role in tackling the climate change challenge. Too often women are categorised as vulnerable or victims with little acknowledgement that they can and already are offering solutions. Women bring knowledge and experience to the table in many areas, inlcuding, agriculture, food security, livelihoods and income generation, that can realise successful adaptation and low carbon development.

There has been progress in relation to gender equality within the UNFCCC. Over the last three years we have seen two COP decisions related to gender equality. In 2012, we left Doha having secured the ‘Doha Miracle’ – Decision 23/CP.18 on women’s representation and gender balance. Then last year at COP20, the Lima Work Programme on Gender was adopted in Decision 18/CP.20. Both decisions seek to increase the participation of women in climate action. It is evident from the UNFCCC Secretariat’s 2015 Report on Gender Composition that we still have a lot of work to do to reach the 50:50 gender balance the Doha decision envisages. Aside from the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, representation of women in constituted bodies established under the Convention hasn’t increased since 2014. In fact, in the case of 5 out of 12 committees the number of women has decreased in the last year.

While the composition of party delegations reached 41 per cent for some sessions of the governing bodies, the percentage of female heads of delegation is far below this – ranging from 26 per cent to 33 per cent. Unfortunately, there was no increase in the number of women party delegates between COP19 and COP 20. So while we are seeing some modest gains in women’s participation in delegations this is not translating to increases in women’s representation at the senior level and in the key decision making bodies of the Convention. It is morally unacceptable that in 2015, 20 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, that women are not taking their place at the decision-making table as equals. We can and must do better.

Key to achieving the ‘Doha Miracle’ and the Lima Work Programme on Gender was the supportive environment created amongst women leaders determined to succeed. This enabled a coalition of strong women from government and civil society to take collective action and create momentum for positive change.

We have a broad movement of people around the world making the case for a people-centred climate agreement that builds on the progress we have made in integrating gender equality and human rights into climate action in recent years. Let’s make sure our voices are heard in the final week of negotiations and that those of us with a seat at the table amplify the voices of women around the world who are struggling to have their voices heard.