WEDO at Work: Exploring breakthroughs for gender equality

by Madeleine Rubenstein, COP18 WEDO Team member

We can use any desk that we sit at to move this agenda forward- change is difficult, but we can’t give up.” - Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary

COP18 began on a high note for gender advocates, with the establishment of the an official UNFCCC ‘Gender Day’; a full day devoted to raising awareness of gender and climate change issues and celebrating women and the role they play in addressing climate change. As part of this effort, WEDO, in partnership with the GGCA, LIFE eV, Gender CC, and members of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, hosted an event on innovative breakthroughs in climate change and gender. The event brought together experts and advocates to discuss how to capitalize on the substantial progress made in recent years. WEDO’s Executive Director Cate Owren moderated a high-level panel discussion between Christiana Figueres (UNFCCC Executive Secretary), Mary Robinson (Former President of Ireland, President, MRFCJ), and Minister Alcinda Albreu (Minister of Environment, Mozambique).

Cate Owren kicked off the panel by recognizing that thanks to the hard work of delegates and civil society advocates, gender references are now incorporated into every pillar of the Bali Action Plan. This great achievement has helped to define what gender-responsive climate policy should look like. Now, she said, the challenge is to turn that language into real action.

Owren then asked the panelists to discuss the most important changes necessary for us to build on previous progress. Min. Alcinda Albreu said that a shift in mindset was critical: a recognition of the invaluable contribution of women in natural resource management, and a reconsideration of the division of labor and women’s role in society. All interventions, she said, should be capitalized in favor of women, and that gender must be a cross-cutting issue in climate negotiations.

When Owren then asked if COP18 would be considered “the gender COP,” Christiana Figueres responded that she hoped not: instead, she said, every COP from now on should be a gender COP. Those involved in gender advocacy should change the narrative about gender and climate change from one that emphasizes the burden of climate change on women to one that underscores women as agents of change. Mary Robinson emphasized this point: we must make an effort to make climate change more people-centered, and this can best be achieved by focusing on women.

Gotelind Alber (Focal Point, UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency) moderated a second panel with Yvette Abrahams (GenderCC South Africa), Kahealani Hekau (Pacific Gender Climate Coalition), Farah Kabir (Action Aid), Agnes Otzelberger (CARE International), Liane Schalatek (Heinrich Böll Foundation), and Farhana Yamin (University College London). These panelists brought an on-the-ground perspective to the discussion of gender-sensitive climate policy. Kahealani Hekau, for example, shared her experience with participatory, community-based projects, and stressed the importance of staying relevant to the needs of communities when implementing adaptation and mitigation programs. Agnus Otzelberger pointed out the danger of stereotyping women: in the process of trying to empower women to tackle climate change, we may be placing an unfair burden on them to “clean up” this global problem. Liane Shalatek also spoke to this message, emphasizing the importance of not stereotyping women only as victims of climate change. The push to empower women must be made not only at the international level, Farah Kabir pointed out, but also domestically: inequalities must be addressed at the national level if true progress is to be made.

Later, Farhana Yamin emphasized the need to stop considering gender as merely an “add-on” to climate policy and Yvette Abraham brought the conversation back to the question of achieving an ambitious climate treaty. “It would be better not to have gender equality on a sinking ship,” she said. “I would prefer to have equity on something that works.”

The event then transitioned into an interactive ‘marketplace’ of ideas around the themes of adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology and capacity building, to consider challenges, opportunities and practical initiatives and actions already underway to address gender in each of these areas.

Helping to raise the profile of this issue, Gender Day was featured on the frontpage of the COP18 website the next day (see below). Let’s hope we can use this momentum to push for true progress on gender equality and creating a sustainable future.

Additional photos and coverage of the event can be found here.