Women’s role against climate change

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Copyright: Panos

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  • COP23 has a gender action plan that co-opt women in fighting climate change
  • Women’s roles are to include decision making in adaptation, mitigation processes
  • As with other gender-sensitive projects traditional values may be a hindrance

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[MANILA] The 23rd UN Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP23) in Bonn (November 6—17) saw acknowledgement and emphasis of the role of women in the global fight against climate change through a gender action plan (GAP). 
Building on existing frameworks, the plan will create new processes to enable women to become agents of change for climate action. The GAP's main goal is to support and enhance the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates so far adopted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through specific initiatives over the next two years. 

“The question for me is whether these types of gender-sensitive projects can initiate change in attitudes about gender or just postpone a clash between men and women”

Lisa Schipper, Environmental Change Institute – Oxford University


The GAP notably moves beyond gender parity in policy negotiations to integrating gender equality in all aspects of climate policy and action. That means strengthening women's roles in all activities related to climate adaptation and mitigation as well as implementing processes, including technology development and transfer. Priority areas in the plan include capacity-building, knowledge sharing and communication; and gender balance, participation and women's leadership. 
According to the New York-based Women's Environment and Development Organisation, women comprise 42 per cent of UNFCCC national delegations in the Bonn, Germany sessions this past May, about the same number from the same conference in 2016. 
Climate change specialists based in the Asia-Pacific say that the region is uniquely primed to adopt the GAP. 
"Obviously there are some very traditional beliefs throughout the region, but this parallel process of change and people adapting to these new things happening, like in the realm of technology, gives me optimism that it provides the right place for changes around gender to also happen," Lisa Schipper, a Vietnam-based research fellow at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, tells SciDev.Net.
But Schipper warns that gender sensitivity in climate change is a relatively new area and there isn't enough evidence to determine whether gender-sensitive projects really work in reducing people's sensitivity to climate change over the long term.  
"The question for me is whether these types of gender-sensitive projects can initiate change in attitudes about gender or just postpone a clash between men and women," Schipper says. "As resources start dwindling and the pressure is on everybody, will initiatives to make things gender-equal without actually making a cultural change just cover up underlying problems that will then emerge later as things get more difficult?"

In the meantime, Esther Nabuti, a 29-year-old from Kiribati who attended COP23, tells SciDev.Net that she is optimistic about what the new GAP will mean for the future of young Pacific women like her.
"Women are a vulnerable group, we are often harder to see, harder to hear and not at the decision-making table," said the Red Cross volunteer. "We need to be part of decision-making and action, to ensure it reflects our experiences and realities."  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.