Photo from UN Women Flickr Gallery

This post was written by Kiera Schuller, BCCIC Youth Delegate to COP 24 and originally appeared on BCCIC’s website.

Gender has been a big topic at this year’s COP24 – and for good reason! Recent years have seen increasingly vocal demands and urges from activists, civil society organizations, and various other groups to have gender equality and female empowerment mainstreamed within all UNFCCC procedures and policies – (I mean, it is 2018 after all!). Yet, these hopes are yet to be realized. COP24 is critically important because the outcome – the Paris Rulebook – will define and shape climate policy for decades to come. If gender is not explicitly addressed in the decisions and the Rulebook, what will this mean for women and gender for the future of climate change and action?

Why does gender matter in climate change?

The intersections between climate change and gender are multifold. First, the impacts of climate change are unevenly distributed, with disproportionate burdens on women as a result of their higher reliance on natural resources, their role as primary food providers and caregivers, their higher likelihood of poverty, as well as structural and institutionalized inequalities within societies. Women also face more barriers in recovering from disasters worldwide, including accessing infrastructure, resources, jobs, and housing. Finally, at all levels of negotiations, policy-making and implementation, women are disproportionately left out, with their voices and needs absent.

BCCIC Youth Delegates hosted an official side event at COP 24

Has Gender Been Mainstreamed at the UNFCCC?

Where are the Women? Whilst there have been advancements in the discourses around mainstreaming gender in climate discussions, as Youth Delegates, we were startled to discover that significant gaps remain. First, we were alarmed to learn that female representation at UNFCCC COP climate negotiations have been consistently woefully inadequate for many years, remaining reliably below 40%. Furthermore, we were shocked to find a recent analysis by the Gender Climate Tracker that showed only 64 out of 190 analyzed Nationally Determined Contributions included a reference of women or gender, all of which were developing countries. Despite it being 2018, there is a clearly significant need to advance equitable gender representation at the negotiating tables at the UNFCCC, to ensure more gender-considerate and equitable policy and decision outcomes.

A Positive: The Gender Action Plan: One exciting and re-affirming development of Week 1 was the advancement of the Gender Action Plan. The GAP was adopted last year at COP23 in Bonn, and its first official full review is due next year at COP 25 in 2019. It was one the most exciting gender discussions happening in Week 1 at COP24, with Parties seeking to advance the plan towards the full review. All Parties showed commitment and progress, including Canada.

But still…. Gender as a Sidelined Debate? By the end of Week 1, we concluded that gender has largely not been a topic included in the formal discussions – those big discussions on finance, mitigation and adaptation. Instead, where gender was robustly discussed was in the side events.Don’t get us wrong, the side events were fabulous, diverse and engaging spaces where civil society groups and activists discussed critical issues, such as the intersections of gender and climate change, ethnicity, food security, poverty, technology, power, and human rights. These events showed the plurality and diversity of voices attending COP24 who are seeking to incorporate critical gender and social issues into the climate discussions and negotiations. Yet, there still seemed something eerie about these voices and platforms being so separate and isolated from formal negotiations. In these rooms, seats – almost always filled – were already most likely to be occupied by those likely already concerned about the issues (preaching to the converted?). It made it very clear there is still much work to be done to bring these discussions into the mainstream conversations and debates.

A Few Insights: Gender Side Events at COP24!

Despite their perhaps peripheral nature, we attended some exciting and fascinating discussions about climate change and gender, which left us with exciting new and critical take-aways. We’ll share a few reflections on just three of the numerous events related to gender here:

Gender and Climate Friendly Technologies:

This panel explored the way climate-friendly technologies can be used to empower women in rural communities, such as India. As Priyadarshini Karve’s innovative research revealed, placing women at the heart of decision-making related to cooking technologies has an immense impact. Women are the heart of many rural Indian communities and make the decisions around what technologies to use in cooking. The most effective way to support them in shifting towards more climate-friendly cooking tools was through an active “Intervention Approach”, which focused on understanding their needs and preferences, and then tailoring the available options to them. This example provided a long-lasting sustainable enterprise model, with almost 90% of women still using the improved technologies today, showing how bringing women to the centre of decision-making is critical for success. Other such technologies relevant to women’s lives in India include efficient non-kerosene lighting systems, enabling women to have longer hours to do important work; improved water pumping systems and sustainable bio-sand water filters to purify water for use, and critical local waste-generation systems, to clean up areas around mass-community cooking.

Central to this panel discussion was also the fact that whilst there is immense global focus on technology as a ‘catalytic’ force to resolve climate change and deliver the Paris Agreement, technology cannot be evaluated outside of context. At global and national levels, technology is continuously promoted as a solution to more sustainable agriculture, energy, disaster reduction, etc.; however, technology can only truly be analyzed as effective in terms of its behavioural impacts, its accessibility, its success in individual communities and in resolving real people’s problems – particularly for women – as well as the manner in which it is developed and “rolled out” to the public (fair, affordable, equitable?). As women play a central role in determining the effectiveness of these technologies, related policies such as female education, investment in female skills and family-planning and labour-market opportunities are also fundamental, ensuring young women are empowered to lead and adopt new technologies.

The ultimate take-away of this discussion was that future UNFCCC negotiations must be turned ‘inside-out’. Technological solutions can no longer simply be debated by diplomats with rich language and rhetoric; instead, COPs must give centre stage to those acting locally on the ground, to share their experiences and best practices implementing technologies through bottom-up, gender-focused interventions, which truly hold keys to effective, long-term climate policies.

WEDO: Women Demand Climate Justice:

WEDO is one of nine constituency groups of UNFCCC, established in 2009. It consists of women and various civil society organizations, all working tirelessly to ensure women’s voices and rights are embedded in all processes and outcomes of UNFCCC decisions, so that gender equity and women’s rights are central to all decisions. At COP24, they are demanding gender-responsive climate action, ranging from just transition, food sovereignty, respecting Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ traditional knowledge; placing human (and women’s) rights and communities above market mechanisms in developing climate policies; ensuring consultation of women as stakeholders in all interventions; and ensuring gender-awareness is integrated in all efforts to meet the 2030 deadlines.

Uniting in our environmental work: The role of women and young people:

Finally, this panel brought together three different organizations to discuss the need to acknowledge and address the intersectional burdens and barriers that young people and women face in having their voices heard, their needs addressed, and their capacities included in addressing climate change. Through intersectional lenses, the panelists highlighted the way both young people and women too often have their insights and capabilities undermined, ignored, and reduced, through often humiliating processes of exclusion, disempowerment, and ignorance. These processes result in a lack of confidence, unhelpful resentment, and ineffective cross-stakeholder communication, and resulting policies suffer from lacking the intelligence, leadership, and ideas that women and youth have to bring. Yet, both youth and women are fighting with more fervor than ever to gain space within the decision-making bodies and processes at both global and national levels. The ongoing efforts – visible at COP24 – provide hope that continuous vocalization and demands will bring about the fundamental changes that are required for successful climate policies: communication, productive interactions, and diverse lenses


Want to hear more about women’s leadership on climate change? Check out the BCCIC Youth Delegation’s Side Event “Young Women Leading on Climate: A Canadian Panel Discussion” (click “join event” to see the recording)