Nationality: Chilean

Country of residence: United States of America

Current position: Executive Director of UN Women

Why do you think the issue of climate change is important for women?

Climate change affects us all and has the potential to threaten life as we know it. It is as simple and alarming as that. Climate change presents a threat to the earth’s natural systems. It has an impact on weather and the frequency and severity of storms; on agriculture, water and food security; on health and the incidence of disease; on the very survival of some nations and cities because of rising sea levels—and thus on human survival. And if we dig more deeply, we see that women are particularly affected.

Why is that so? The answer lies in how women live, what they do for a living – in other words, the economic and political space women can or cannot occupy. In many regions of the world, women are the primary agricultural producers and managers of natural resources. This is especially true for rural women in developing countries, who are often responsible for the collection of water and have to walk long distances, especially in the dry season, and this has become more pronounced due to climate change.  Women are also the ones who purchase goods for families and put food on the table. Consequently, women experience the effects of climate change acutely and have a high stake in addressing this threat. 

The last two COPs in Cancun and Durban made great strides in bringing the gender dimensions of climate change into the decisions adopted. It is necessary for women to have a role as active agents in the response to climate change and in shaping a gender-sensitive climate policy. Entire communities benefit from the unique knowledge, perspectives and experiences of women when they lead or participate in decision-making processes that address climate change – from the village to the global level. Now, COP18 will be remembered for reaffirming the importance of increasing women’s participation and decision-making in the response to climate change through the decision on “Promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in the bodies established pursuant to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol.” UN Women contributed to this landmark decision.

What is UN Women doing to address climate change that responds to women’s needs?

UN Women is a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment in intergovernmental discussions on climate change and sustainable development. At Rio+20 last June, women were recognised as vital agents in the global efforts to achieve sustainable development. UN Women worked to ensure that the Outcome Document contained a strong message, stressing the importance of integrating gender into all three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. At COP18, we gained broad support for the adoption of the decision on promoting gender balance, which includes a reporting mechanism to track women’s representation in UNFCCC bodies and adds “gender and climate” as a standing item on the COP agenda. UN Women will continue its advocacy and outreach to Member States in close partnership with civil society, including women’s organisations, at future COPs.

Our intergovernmental efforts are complemented by work on the ground to make a difference in the lives of women and girls and their families who are affected by climate change. In Viet Nam, where the population has faced climate change-induced disasters from both flooding and droughts, we are working to increase women’s disaster preparedness through training, promoting women’s participation in decision-making, and improving women’s access to early warning systems. In Bangladesh, we are working with women in disaster-prone districts to both prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change by providing training and new opportunities in “green sector’ businesses. As I’ve always said, we should walk the talk. I commend the UNFCCC’s efforts to highlight women’s agency on the ground through the launch of the pillar on “Women for Results” in its Momentum for Change Initiative.

As a former leader of your country and now of UN Women, why do you think providing women the opportunity to lead could make a difference in the lives of ordinary women and girls?

Women bring a unique perspective to the table based on their insights, experiences and roles in public and private life. They raise issues that need to be taken into consideration to reflect and respond to the diverse needs of societies. When there are more women in decision-making bodies, there are more legal reforms that expand women’s rights and access to justice and improve social policies. Evidence also shows that in parliaments with higher proportions of female representatives, more environmental conventions and laws are approved. In Rwanda, for example, the presence of women in parliament led to progressive reforms on land, marriage and inheritance. After quotas were introduced in Tanzania, Costa Rica and Spain, the number of women legislators increased and laws on violence against women, land rights, health care and employment were adopted. Moreover, the presence of women in public office encourages greater political engagement among all women in society. Women’s political participation and leadership are fundamental, not only to gender equality, but to peace, democracy and sustainable development.