Climate, gender equality and women’s empowerment

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Over the next 9 days world leaders are negotiating a climate change deal in Paris at the 21st annual Conference of the Parties, known as COP 21.

Civil society organisations, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other members of the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA), are at the climate conference to call for sexual and reproductive health services, like family planning, to be included in plans for climate adaptation and climate resilient development.

IPPF’s senior adviser for advocacy, Alison Marshall, is at the talks and gives us an insiders’ perspective.

"Today started with young feminists sharing their challenges as climate advocates. Women from Brazil to Bahrain, from Bangladesh to Liberia, from Costa Rica to Vietnam, from Mexico to the Maldives gathered to share stories of obstacles overcome.

There’s great work going on to enable girls and young women to understand what’s happening to our planet. For example the Worldwide Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has a new badge focussed on climate change and food security.

At lunch-time the Climate Envoy of the Netherlands hosted a discussion on putting gender at the heart of climate action with Minister Plouman of the Netherlands. Mary Robinson (previously President of Ireland, now a campaigner for climate justice) explained how she works with women who have previously presided over climate negotiations: Connie Hedegaard from Denmark, President of COP15, Patricia Espinosa of Mexico, President of COP 16 and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa who was President of COP 17. Together they played a key role in gaining agreement to improve the participation of women in UN Framework on Climate Change Convention negotiations and to establish gender as a standing item on the climate Conference of the Parties (COP) agenda. Nevertheless I felt worried when Robinson warned that the language on gender and human rights in the text currently being negotiated in Paris is not secure.

Lakshmi Puri of UN Women praised the current inclusion of language on ‘gender-responsive’ climate policy in the text under negotiation on adaptation, finance and capacity building, but called for similar language in the section on technology. Of course new climate-related technology needs to be gender-responsive!

Stella Gama, from Malawi’s official delegation, explained how some other climate negotiators don’t take seriously her calls for gender mainstreaming. And when in a later event, the President of Honduras described how he was mocked for promoting clean cook-stoves, I started to feel even more angry about the way “women’s issues” are continually downgraded.

“I call for a state of emergency” said Human Rights campaigner Bianca Jagger this evening, confronting us with the fact that pledges to reduce carbon emissions* made in Paris would mean planetary warming between 2.8 and 3 degrees Celsius, when we know that anything over 2 degrees means catastrophe. She denounced the fact that climate negotiations have been going on for 21 years (this is COP21) saying we can’t call the Paris outcome a ‘starting point’ - we need serious commitments now! As the poster outside the conference hall says: “we can’t say to our children that we didn’t know”."

*So called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)