Towards Gender-Responsive Climate Change Policies and Initiatives: the UNFCCC Goal of Gender Balance

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In the last twenty years, gender equality has increasingly been recognized as a critical crosscutting issue in major multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). In 1992, Agenda 21 set the stage with Chapter 24, stating: “Women have considerable knowledge and experience in managing and conserving natural resources.” By 2013, many legal instruments and norm-setting agreements integrate text that promotes gender equality and women’s rights, including across the three key United Nations environmental agreements: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[1].

The UNFCCC agreement seeks to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” and since 1995, the 195 countries (commonly referred to as parties) that have ratified the Convention have been meeting annually at the Conference of Parties (COP) to assess progress being made in dealing with climate change.

In December 2012, at its eighteenth session, the conference of parties (COP) adopted a decision on promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established pursuant to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol. The goal of gender balance (Decision 23/CP.18), seeks to promote gender balance and improve women’s participation and particularly inform more effective climate change policy that addresses the needs of women and men equally.

Parties and observer organizations were requested to submit to the UNFCCC Secretariat their views on options and ways to advance the goal of gender balance and the deadline for these submissions was set for 2 September 2013. Only 15 countries (a paltry 8%) made their submissions as posted on the UNFCCC website and 7 of these are African countries i.e. Sudan, Liberia, Malawi, Kenya, Mozambique, Burundi and Ghana. The Observer organizations to the UNFCCC that made submissions include:- UN Women, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), LIFE e.V., GenderCC-Women for Climate Justice, Women’s Environment and Development Network (WEDO), Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBF) and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ).

FEMNET has been working closely with IEWM and CCN-Kenya as part of immediate follow up actions as agreed during a Roundtable discussion held on 25th July 2013. In the month of August 2013 we held advocacy meetings with the key officials in the Ministry of Environment in Kenya as well as the National Gender and Equality Commission to formerly share the Kenya CSOs recommendations on views on options and ways to advance the goal of gender balance and lobby their inclusion in those that the Kenyan government would be presenting to UNFCCC before 2nd September 2013.

The submissions by parties and observer organizations is one part of the equation towards realizing gender-responsive climate change policies. The other part of the equation (or let’s say the litmus test) will be the translation of these commitments as a lead up to COP 19 in November 2013 in Warsaw, Poland and beyond.

Some good indicators will for instance be an increase in the number of women delegates (especially lead negotiators) as well conducting training to build the capacity of delegates before COP19 so as to ensure effective participation and inclusion of gender considerations in the climate change negotiations. UNFCCC Secretariat will be convening a gender workshop to consider gender balance, capacity building and gender-sensitive climate policy.

According to the Women’s Environment and Development Network (WEDO) “equitable participation of women in climate change decision making can provide the crosscutting experiences necessary for climate change policies that embody social equity that reflects and serves the needs of society. However, beyond the understanding of either women’s vulnerabilities to or potential leadership in mitigating and adapting to climate change, equity in decision making comes down to a simple notion:  If it weren’t for underlying institutional and societal inequities, why wouldn’t half the population be represented in equal numbers in decision-making?

In August 2013, ahead of the 2nd September deadline for parties and observer organizations to submit their views and options, WEDO, in partnership with the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) and the UNFCCC Secretariat released a publication titled ‘Gender Equality and the UNFCCC: A Compilation of Decision Text.’ The publication, which compiles gender-responsive language from all UNFCCC agreements, is a great reference tool for climate change and gender experts, policymakers and practitioners for mitigating and adapting to climate change in a gender transformative approach. The publication definitely serves as a useful tool to remind all stakeholders of the foundation upon which to continue working towards truly sustainable development.

Written by Rachel Kagoiya, Information Manager at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) – email: library@femnet.or.ke


[1] 2013. Gender Equality and the UNFCCC: A Compilation of Decision Text by WEDO, GGCA & UNFCCC

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