Lakshmi Puri, UN Women

Mary Robinson, Foundation – Climate Justice

Women make essential contributions to the economy, their society and the environment. From household heads, village leaders, corporate managers, peacekeepers, Nobel Prize winners, presidents and prime ministers, women have contributed to securing better health, livelihoods and education, advancing peace and security, realising human rights, promoting sustainable development and addressing climate change challenges.

At the community level, women contribute to influencing sustainable consumption and production, safeguarding the natural environment and biodiversity, preserving traditional knowledge, and allocating adequate and sustainable resources within the household and community. Within the context of the care economy, women living in poverty have to manage the allocation of scarce resources, including water and energy, and when confronted with environmental degradation, women’s care burden increases.

Given this dependence on natural resources and the environment around them, women are affected differently by the negative impacts of climate change than men. This increases women’s exposure to risks ranging from disease and under-nutrition to violence and death due to disasters.

Often overlooked, however, are that women’s existing roles and responsibilities reflect the essential role they have to play in the global response to climate change, within the contexts of both mitigation and adaptation. In agriculture and industry, in households and political decision-making, and through science and traditional knowledge, women have ideas and experiences, and are poised to drive positive changes. Providing women with equal opportunities and resources and engaging them in decision-making related to climate change will not only improve their livelihoods and wellbeing, but could also benefit entire communities.  At the global level, the inclusion of women in decision-making can inform integrated and inter-generational policies and advance sustainable development.

COP18 provides an opportunity to make women’s voices heard in the climate change negotiations and their participation, representation and leadership in the negotiations a reality. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action provide solid support for the recognition of the importance of women’s empowerment and their full participation on equal terms with men in all spheres of society, including participation in decision-making processes and access to power.

Most recently, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) Outcome Document recognised women’s leadership and their vital role in achieving sustainable development and emphasised the impact of setting specific targets and implementing temporary measures, as appropriate, for substantially increasing the number of women in leadership positions, with the aim of achieving gender parity.

While there has been progress in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in international climate change policy, as well as in some aspects of women’s representation in bodies created under the Convention, much remains to be done. One initiative that is being pursued at COP18 is the proposal for a new decision to promote gender equality through improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established by the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

The adoption of a new decision at COP18, which sets a goal of gender balance to improve women’s participation and representation will send a strong political signal and ensure that women and men elected to UNFCCC bodies and involved in the negotiations fully address the gender dimensions of climate change.

More importantly, in this critical juncture of discussions on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development framework, a landmark decision on women’s participation in climate change negotiations at COP18 in Doha will be an important foundation for renewed commitment to the critical development goals of advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The devastating impacts of recent extreme weather events are a wake-up call for the international community to take action and acknowledge the critical role of women in informing the policies and making the decisions that affect their lives. We cannot combat climate change without the contribution of women: after all they make up half of the intellect, energy and ingenuity we have at our disposal.