Gender and COP26: Why the climate summit should be on every feminist’s agenda

Today, for Gender Day at the COP26, we list five goals that all feminists should be keeping their eyes on at the UN climate conference taking place right now. 

Former Irish President, Mary Robinson, notoriously said, “Climate change is a manmade problem, that requires a feminist solution.”

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is a massively important turning point for the future of gender equality, feminist policy and women’s human rights. Gender justice cannot be sidelined when debating the future of our planet. It’s time for governments and institutions to take note, and put gender equality at the heart of any viable strategies on climate and ecology. 

What do we mean when we say that gender and climate go hand in hand?

Gender inequality is one of the major divides in our societies. The gender pay, pension and employment gaps remain significant. Women are still under-represented in positions of power and decision-making. The gendered division of labour keeps women responsible for the majority of unpaid care work. This means women are more likely to live in social and economic precarity, making women more vulnerable and with fewer means to respond and adapt to climate disasters. All aspects of climate change have a gender dimension. The causes, the impacts and the policies to respond to climate change all have different effects on women and men.

The slogan of gender activists in the international climate negotiations is ‘no climate justice without gender justice’. A just transition to a greener world must include efforts towards gender equality.

It’s time for a feminist, fierce and fossil free future. Here is why.

No climate justice without gender justice: we must reinforce leadership for women, girls and gender diverse people

Women, girls and gender diverse people are on the front line combatting the climate crisis in our communities. We need to ensure that women, girls and gender diverse people’s calls are heard and their needs addressed in the climate context. They need to be included throughout the whole decision-making process and at the negotiating table. 

The wisdom, leadership and experiences of indigenous people, people from the Global South and people already suffering from the climate crises must be seen as agents of change. They must be at the centre when negotiating climate policies. This Australian study is only one of many research projects to prove that diversity in leadership has a massive positive impact.

Gender equality and women’s human rights are fundamental and undisputable in combating climate change. Recognising the important contributions of women and gender diverse people as decision-makers, stakeholders, educators, carers and experts across sectors and at all levels is the only way to achieve successful, long-term solutions to climate change. Fighting climate change must mean fighting for gender equality.

Nothing neutral about the crisis: states must recognize how the climate crisis affects us differently 

Climate change deepens already existing inequalities. The poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Food and water insecurity – and extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves and floods – have a greater impact on the poor and most vulnerable. 70% of the world’s poor are women.

Climate change has damaging effects, and can endanger mental health as much as physical health.

Attempts to adapt to climate change, particularly in poorer countries, are failing. Resources are being wasted because they do not take gender inequality and the effects on women and girls into account. It is essential to assess, disseminate and raise awareness about the impacts of environmental policies on women, both by public policies, and public and private industries.

The principles of gender equality must be enshrined in all climate-related texts and mechanisms: 

  • mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions)
  • adaptation to the effects of climate change
  • loss and damage
  • technologies, and so on. 

End the vicious cycle of gender roles and climate change: the climate crisis increases gender-based violence

The climate crisis and environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls. Gender-based exploitation is hampering our ability to tackle the crisis.

According to a study conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there is clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence. 

As our environment degrades and stress is put on our ecosystems, it stands to reason that this creates scarcity and stress for people. The evidence shows that where environmental pressures increase, acts of gender-based violence increase.

Ultimately, efforts towards gender justice in climate policy need to address the root causes of the high carbon emissions of our societies, as well as gender inequality. To do this, we will need to challenge our society’s own deeply embedded gender norms and power relations that influence perceptions and attitudes. 

More attention and recognition must be given to dismantling the harmful, outdated norms around masculinities, which force men into a very limiting role. This can have severe consequences, such as triggering violence and assault against women and gender diverse people, and steering away from sustainable choices in their everyday lives.

Fulfil the strong commitment to human rights: uphold the Paris Agreement!  

Climate change and its impacts erode human freedoms, limit choice and threaten the full enjoyment of human rights – both directly and indirectly. 

By upholding the commitment to the Paris Agreement, parties have agreed to respect, promote and consider the human rights of all when taking action to address climate change. This commitment must be translated into actions.   

The science is clear about the impact of failing to fulfill the most fundamental promise of the Paris Agreement: the target of keeping global warming below 1.5°C. A world of increasing climate disaster will deepen and exacerbate existing structural inequalities. 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), climate-induced displacement forces nearly 20 million people to leave their homes every year. Scientists fear that these numbers will increase as the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events escalates. We must recognize how climate change and natural disasters interact with drivers of migration.We must address the specific needs, vulnerabilities and human rights of people who are forced to leave their homes because of the climate crisis. 

Without the full recognition of human rights, including a full and inclusive voice and decision-making in all aspects of climate change policy-making at national level, we will fail to achieve a fair and just transition to a greener world. Women and gender diverse people will be left behind. 

Make gender justice reality: build on the Gender Action Plan (GAP) 

A key area of progress at COP25 2019 in Madrid was the adoption of the renewed Lima Work Programme and its 5-year Gender Action Plan (GAP). 

It is about time that all parties, including the European Union, deliver on these renewed commitments and truly make equality a top priority.

The historical gender action plan sets out objectives, and concrete activities, to advance gender-responsive climate actions worldwide. For the first time in history, there are national gender and climate change focal points, responsible for transforming these commitments into change.   

This is an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the evidence and understanding of the gendered dimension of climate change, and share experiences and best practices on how to find truly sustainable solutions.

But we are in a hurry.  

Two years on, COP26 must deliver a strong decision or set of conclusions on pushing forward progress under the Gender Action Plan – to fulfil the ambition set out in Madrid. 

What can you do to work towards gender justice at COP26? 

Womens Climate Strike
Alisdare Hickson (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Gender Day at the COP26 will be held today, Tuesday 9th November, to recognise and celebrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in climate policy and action.

The Greens/EFA Group is proud to organise a session on gender equality at the Green Hub in Glasgow on 9th November. Participants will meet people working to end gender-based violence (GBV) in the European Parliament, learn about the upcoming European GBV Directive proposal, find out what they can do to put pressure on their own MEPs/policy-makers, and build their network by strengthening their voice in the green feminist movement at national and international level. 

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