November 27th, for the first-time, was officially declared as ‘Gender Day,’ thanks to the work of the official Women and Gender constituency and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat. It has also been exciting to have a high-level champion like the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Mrs. Christiana Figueres, take leadership in her position to leverage gender and women’s empowerment in the climate change negotiations.
Yesterday, for example, Ms. Figueres hosted a briefing to discuss the concerns of young delegates in the negotiations. When I asked her how young people like myself can push forward such issues like gender, health and reproductive rights—she responded with a very clear point on how to move forward.
Ms. Figueres advised us to push for gender as its own specific agenda point in the negotiations, because as of now, we’ve only been able to achieve mentions of gender in several other agenda points. We need delegates to understand that all climate change policies need to have a gender perspective, but that can only happen when gender is highlighted as a single agenda item.
This gave me high hopes for today, where the UNFCCC and official women and gender constituency hosted two high-level events to raise visibility of gender, women’s empowerment, access to education and participation of women in decision-making in the context of climate change. High-level speakers included Ms. Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice (MRFCJ) (and former president of Ireland), and Honorary Albreu, Minister of Environment of Mozambique.
During the first event, the UNFCCC and civil society came together to explore equity, diversity and inclusive decision-making and how to change the face of representation at the UNFCCC, examining who is represented at the UNFCCC on government delegations and how this impacts decision-making. Still, women, particularly young women, continue to be underrepresented across many countries of the world, particularly with respect to higher levels of leadership positions at the negotiations, and in countries most vulnerable to climate impacts.
During the second event, the UNFCCC and civil society discussed constructive ways of translating our agenda to the grassroots level.
Two points that struck me in these discussions were:
1) Ms. Figueres’ comment about being “gender-smart.” To be “gender smart,” we need to think past the theoretical policy decision-making and make sure we’re changing mindsets at the grassroots level.
As an advocate, I think it’s important to target decision makers to recognize the importance of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. At the same time, it’s just as crucial to get buy-in at the grassroots level and reach civil society organizations working on climate change mitigation and adaptation to integrate youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services programming.
2) Liane Schalatek’s comment on how we need to pull the discussion away from the “effectiveness” of climate change mitigation (which is dominantly defined as cutting emissions), and instead take a more comprehensive approach that will be more women-centered.
The foci of climate change negotiations often sound anything but human—financing, mitigation, cutting emissions and renewable energy. At the same time, women and young people are more vulnerable to the negative consequences. Then, why is there this disconnect?
Even now, we see that young people and women are adapting to the negative impacts of climate change, but they receive no credit as agents for sustainable change in their communities.
Reflecting on “Gender day” helped me recognize that we have a long way to go to make strides in raising issues of gender, young people, and sexual and reproductive health and rights at COP18. It took until last year for the women and gender community to be accepted as an official constituency of the UNFCCC. It took until now to have an official day on gender in the negotiations. Gender is still not a clear, specific agenda item in the climate change negotiations. Still, many of the delegations have only 10% of women represented and there is no one measuring whether young people are represented at all.
Optimistically, though, I say we will eventually get gender equality and reproductive rights established as priorities in the climate change negotiations.
It will take time, but as Ms. Figueres said, “ we will get there!”