Women have always been seen as weak and vulnerable, and it is no different when it comes to climate change. Women are almost often considered a charity case rather than active agents of change. But this narrative needs to change.
It is true that women are differently impacted by climate change impacts. During the Young Feminists Day at the UN Climate Negotiations in Paris last year, Majandra Rodriguez, a climate activist from Peru, said, "Women are not inherently weak. Inequalities are created by societies."
Women's participation in policy making and the UN process
There has been a significant progress over the years in terms of women's participation and engagement in climate action, especially in the UN process.
"The women and gender constituency continues to grow strong. We went from having relatively small presence in the lead up to Copenhagen to having an extremely large presence in the lead up to COP21," said Bridget Burns of the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).
She also noted the shift towards a better understanding of women and gender issues inside the UN negotiations.
"In the negotiations, we've seen a huge shift in terms of understanding around gender and climate change. We went from having no language to having a full set of decisions like the Lima work program on gender," Burns added.
However, she also noted that while there is "progress in the process and in words," it hasn't necessarily translated to implementation.
"We see that in COP negotiations, women's leadership goes down because we see where there are bigger decisions being taken, women's leadership is less. We also see a huge disparity between gender balance amongst regions so there's a lot less participation in least developed countries, Asia Pacific, African countries," she said.
Mubanga Kalimamukwento, negotiator from Zambia, agrees.
"From where I come from women don't take a central role in the negotiations. So many women are not yet properly informed on what they can do," Kalimamukwento said.
Women and Climate Action outside the negotiations
But while women's participation in policy making and UN processes still needs a lot of work, many women are already actively seeking solutions on climate change impacts.
Anna Samwel from Georgia shares how women in her community have been actively taking part in mitigation and adaptation actions.
"We have been developing a gender sensitive Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) on sustainable rural energy. Rural women are pursuing the sustainable energy transition by adapting solar water heaters and energy efficient stoves and insulation, all made in their communities. Rural women pursue the adaptation of sustainable technologies," she said.
Shalia Shahid also says the same thing of Bangladeshi women.
"Women are the resilient faces of Bangladesh. We're doing all kinds of things to combat climate change. They are the water managers, they grow food, they work hard to ensure food security for the family and community," Shahid shares.
However, Ipul Powaseu from Papua New Guinea, a woman with disability, also reminds the women and climate justice movement to also ensure the inclusion of disabled women who are most often forgotten.
"Women with disabilities are women but their needs are specific. When we talk about issues of women, we need to look at the group of women we have. A lot of times when there are gender discussions about gender, women with disabilities are left behind," said Powaseu.
More women participation needed
However, grassroots action will only be as good when complemented with policies. This is why women who are currently involved in the UN negotiations emphasize the need for more women to be part of policy and decision making in the larger scale.
"From COP 18, when the gender agenda was introduced into the negotiations, I want to believe that it was an entry point for women, many women now are part of the process. But the challenge we are having is that the agenda is not sensitive throughout," said Winfred Lichuma, Chairperson of The National Gender and Equality Commission,
"Countries send representatives [to the UN] but we want to see more women at the decision making table. Once you get to the decision making table, the policies that are going to come out of future negotiations will definitely be gender sensitive. It's not just about women being part of the group." she added.
No climate justice without gender justice
Around the world, women have been actively seeking solutions to climate change and more and more women are participating in policy and decision making processes. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, we have significantly moved forward and we hope that these spaces for participation and engagement remain open.
These spaces are important to ensure that in working towards climate justice, women, who comprise half of the world's population, are not left behind. There will be no climate justice without gender justice.
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