Women and feminist groups demand gender equality and inclusion of diverse voices at COP26

  • Women and feminist groups took the global stage on Gender Day at COP26 to demand more representation and recognition of disproportionate effects of climate change.
  • Although a day was solely dedicated to Gender at COP26, and several financial pledges have been made by different countries, the conference did not have many women at the decision-making level, especially women from vulnerable countries and indigenous women.
  • Experts urge for a systemic change at the local and national levels to improve representation of all genders at the international level.
  • For India, the inclusion of Adivasi and Dalit women’s voices is particularly important, note rights activists.

“Two degrees is a death sentence for island nations…We’ve come here to say – try harder!” said the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, making one of the most powerful statements in the opening ceremony of the climate conference COP26 that recently concluded in Glasgow. It was very clear from that moment, that the voices of women in the UN climate conference was going to be loud and strong.

At the start of the second week of the two-week conference, the day of November 9 was dedicated to the subject of gender, for the role of women to be advanced in addressing climate change. International leaders signed the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement, a joint statement published by the Scottish Government and UN Women, that calls for climate action to recognise differentiated impacts based on gender and to ensure women’s and girls’ leadership in decision-making. The statement which is open until March 2022, called on all leaders to commit to greater and ongoing support for women’s and girls’ climate change programmes at the national and global levels. India is yet to sign the statement.

Despite the recognition of distinct vulnerability of women and girls to climate change, women who are at the forefront of climate change, especially the women from climate-vulnerable countries and indigenous women were not present at the decision-making levels of COP26. Climate activists have claimed that COP26 is one of the most exclusionary climate conferences.

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. Photo by Varsha Deshpandey / Wikimedia Commons.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. Photo by Varsha Deshpande/Wikimedia Commons.

A 2017 UN report that recognises that there can be no genuine sustainable human development without gender equality, found that 80% of those displaced by climate emergencies are women. The report also stated that women also don’t have enough access to funding to compensate for weather-related losses or technology for adaptation. A Malala Fund report published earlier this year, found that climate-related events will prevent at least four million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education.

Women and feminist groups at COP26 insisted that there is a lot more to be done and that gender inequality and climate change can’t be viewed as different crises.

Pressure to end the heightened gender disparity in climate justice

Talking about how women are in the frontline of climate change, Osprey Orielle Lake, Founder of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), said during a press conference, that women are putting their lives on the line for standing up for the last of water and forests. ”What’s happening now is unjust,” she said.

In conversation with Mongabay-India, Lake expounded the importance of including women at the decision-making levels, “Studies worldwide show us that when women are uplifted, there are immense benefits to entire communities and societies overall. Only two out of 12 UK COP26 Unit Directors, who have overall responsibility for managing the COP’s policy, international negotiations, and campaigns, are women. We need more women in top leadership roles. We need women at the table with a feminist analysis; we need to ensure there is racial and economic diversity at the table and women who carry the values of an intersectional lens to climate policy. This is how we can advance a policy agenda that reflects the lived experience of women in poverty, women dealing with sexual issues and health issues, women on the frontlines of extractive industries and who have unique experiences that will help shape policy from that experience.” WECAN was at COP26 for advocating for climate justice, Indigenous rights and sovereignty, gender-responsive policies, forest protection and keeping fossil fuels in the ground, among other demands.

Poster at the Green Zone of the COP26 venue, on which feminists wrote their climate demands. Photo by Priyanka Shankar.
Poster at the Green Zone of the COP26 venue, on which feminists wrote their climate demands. Photo by Priyanka Shankar/Mongabay.

Environmental lawyer Arpitha Kodiveri, who works on climate litigation in South Asia, told Mongabay-India that COP26 has failed to be inclusive of gender and trans rights. For India in particular, the inclusion of Adivasi and Dalit women becomes important, she said. “They don’t have a secure tenure and rights over land. There have been movements to recognise the property rights for women, but it hasn’t reached the degree that it should. If there are coal mines opening or a plantation activity taking place on the grounds of climate change or an afforestation programme, the rights of women get left out,” said Kodiveri.

With loss and damage becoming an important area of focus of COP26, Kodiveri too highlighted it in relation to Adivasi and Dalit women. “They have no access to compensation for losses. Adivasi and Dalit women also work as migrant labourers in agriculture. When climate change affects agriculture, there are different patterns of migration and loss of livelihood. They don’t have a secure asset to come back to. When we speak about loss and damage in climate conversation, it is important to recognise their rights. These women are also stewards of the forest. Women guard sacred groves, collect non-timber forest products and practice other traditional activities that also help the ecosystem,” she explained.

The impact of climate change on water bodies is another aspect which in turn disproportionately impacts women. “Water is the local issue of global climate change. In places like Northeast India, it is the women who procure water for the family. Women walk uphill for miles to get the water. With the streams drying up in the hills, women are suffering the most. They are losing out on livelihoods with the increasing frequency and intensity of floods. There are also issues of health and hygiene during the floods,” shared Rituraj Phukan, writer and environmental activist, demanding more women and indigenous peoples’ representation.

Read more: Women revive talaabs for water security in Bundelkhand

Solutions to make climate conversations more gender inclusive

Kodiveri urged systemic change for a long-term solution. “In the national climate action plans and state climate action plans in India, there is a mention of gender-based inclusion. But it is not a gender-responsive framework. Women are identified as vulnerable but beyond that, the mechanisms need to address the vulnerabilities and safeguard the women from the vulnerabilities. Using methods like gender-budgeting, recognising the land rights of women, and making sure that single mothers and widows have a social safety net are important steps,” she told Mongabay-India, adding that more trans representation is also necessary.

Fatou Jeng from the Women and Gender Working Group of YOUNGO says that women have the local knowledge, they have been marginalised over the years in the decision-making processes.
Fatou Jeng from the Women and Gender Working Group of YOUNGO said that women have the local knowledge, but they have been marginalised over the years in the decision-making processes. Photo by Priyanka Shankar/Mongabay.

Archana Soreng, an indigenous environmental activist from Odisha, meanwhile, advocates for solutions to begin at the local level. “In the meetings at the local and national levels there has been a conscious decision of not including women in the decision-making process. Patriarchy and other social and cultural injustices have denied women the opportunity to speak. We need to enable women to participate in climate conversations right from the first step,” she told Mongabay-India.

“Women are not equally represented. About 70% of the speaking time in the delegations is given to men, and the remaining to women,” said Fatou Jeng from the Women and Gender working group, part of YOUNGO – Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC. She said that although women have the local knowledge, they have been marginalised over the years in the decision-making processes. Talking to Mongabay-India about the work that YOUNGO does in pushing for gender equality, Jeng said, “YOUNGO is pushing for gender justice. There also exists the five-year Lima work programme adopted by the UNFCCC to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the UNFCCC processes. We, at YOUNGO, are amplifying this message and calling for an equal representation of women and girls. We want to leave no one behind.”

Saher Rashid Baig, from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Working Group at YOUNGO, who also advocates for human rights and climate justice told Mongabay-India that YOUNGO practices what it preaches. “YOUNGO is very diverse. There is no gatekeeping mechanism to being a part of YOUNGO based on colour, gender, or anything. I belong to a minority community too; my identity is recognised, and I am given equal rights. We work together as a team for one cause – Climate Justice!”

Read more: Environment and Her series


Banner image: Sostine Namanya, Osprey Orielle Lake, Sonia Guajajara and Casey Camp-Horinek at the WECAN Press Conference in COP26, Glasgow. Photo by Priyanka Shankar/Mongabay.

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