Although the United Nations climate change secretariat (UNFCCC) is led by a woman for the second time in a row — current Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, who followed Christiana Figueres — women are still vastly absent from climate change decision-making. And largely ignored by climate policies.
Only one out of three delegates at the last two climate conferences were women, according to a recent paper from the UNFCCC.
To bolster the role of women in climate change action, delegates have adopted the first Gender Action Plan at the 23rd “conference of the parties,” which took place from November 6 to 17 in Bonn.
Women activists and researchers hailed adoption of the plan.
“The issue of gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment has really seen an increasing recognition — and that’s very positive,” Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist at UN Women, told DW.
“Without gender justice, world leaders won’t create successful climate policies because half of the population will be left behind,” she said.
It’s not the first time the international community has discussed how climate change and gender equality are connected — but it is the first time they have agreed upon a set of specific activities, indicated who the responsible actors are, and set a timeline for implementation, she explains.
In two years, delegates from the national governments will report back on the progress that has been made on gender justice.
Women more vulnerable
Climate change is affecting everyone living on this planet. But women in particular will feel its impact, experts say. That’s because climate change exacerbates existing gender inequality.
“Women are not starting from an even playing field — economically, socially and politically. They are more vulnerable because of these constructs,” Gotelind Alber, co-founder of the nongovernmental organization GenderCC-Women for Climate Justice, told DW.
The majority of the world’s poor are women, meaning they have fewer resources to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Women are also more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. In developing countries, women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of all household food production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
When drought or floods destroy the harvest, women and girls are often the first to reduce how much they eat — sacrificing their diet for the well-being of the rest of the family, Lim Hwei Mian, from the Asian-pacific resource and research centre for women (ARROW), said.
Add to that how in rural areas in many developing countries, it’s women’s duty to collect water. According to data from the UN, the combined hours of all women in sub-Saharan Africa fetching water is 16 million hours. Men, in comparison, spend 6 million hours on water collection.
With droughts becoming more frequent, women and girls would need to walk longer distances to collect water. This means they will lose valuable time to go to school, and face an even-greater risk of sexual harrassment or even assault at dusk or dawn, Lim Hwei Mian explained.
Women and girls are also more vulnerable to storms, floods and cyclones. According to a UN Population Fund report, they are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters.
“Girls are not taught to swim or to climb a tree — girls are not taught to be tough, so they are less prepared when natural disasters hit their communities,” Mian told DW.
‘Not just victims’