RELEASE: “No gender justice on a dead planet, Women want system change not climate change.”

Women’s Caucus at COP 20 Calls for Refocusing of Key Issues on UNFCCC Gender Day
By Claire Greensfelder for the Women and Gender Constituency at COP 20

Lima, Peru:  Tuesday December 9th at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was officially recognized as the second annual “Gender Day” – a day to focus on the importance of including equal participation by women and men in all aspects of the UNFCCC agreements, implementation and decision-making bodies.  This year’s Gender Day, like its predecessor last year in Warsaw, Poland at COP 19, included specialized side events and briefings by NGOs, press conferences, a breakfast meeting of the Network of Women Environmental Leaders and Environmental Ministers, an afternoon strategy session with UN Women Director Lakshmi Puri, and an evening “high level” reception jointly sponsored by UN Women and a number of the principle NGOs from the Women and Gender Constituency.

And yet, behind the events, celebrations and proclamations outside the main hall, the fight for inclusion of Gender Equality and Climate Justice in next year’s “Paris Agreement” currently under negotiation between governments went on unabated.

To emphasize the seriousness of the negotiations at hand, women leaders present at the COP held a press conference to reiterate their commitment to achieving real Climate Justice along with Gender Equality in Paris.

Sabine Bock, Director of the Climate and Energy Program of Women in Europe for a Common Future and Co-Coordinator of the EWA “Empower Women – Benefit (for) All” Programme said: “You might wonder what we mean by “refocusing”. We want to be clear that gender equality and human rights are not tradeable nor negotiable.  They are crucial [to the success] of a new climate agreement.”

Bock continued: “We will only have an ambitious and adequate climate agreement, if women and men equally decide about, contribute to and benefit from all climate policies and actions. We need to close the gaps, which exist in leadership, decision-making, education, health, access to resources, technology, finances – just to name a few. We demand from governments that the new agreement reflect the urgency of 1.5 degrees.  There will be no gender equality or human rights on an overheated planet.”

Ana Rojas, from Costa Rica, representing the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) brought the arguments down to realities: “There is great potential for climate-related funds and mechanisms to support new investments in low-carbon, renewable and energy-efficient technologies that would benefit women while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Rojas cautioned:  “However, it is necessary to overcome a series of barriers to facilitate women’s engagement. Technology development and use is widely viewed as ‘men’s work’. Even in countries where there is educational parity at the higher levels, women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remains relatively low to that of men. (ECLAC 2013). For example, in the United States, documented numbers are that women represent between 20 and 25% of the wind energy workforce.”

Rojas also outlined how positive impacts for women can be achieved through implementation of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies, especially in the case of firewood collection.  By using newer energy technologies instead of gathering and burning firewood, women are relieved from drudgery, vulnerability to physical and sexual attacks during collection and respiratory illness from burning firewood.

Also speaking at the press event was Liane Schalatek, Associate Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation North Americawhospoke about the inextricable need to create a just framework for gender equality within climate finance. Schalatek explained: “The new Green Climate Fund (GCF) has a mandate for a gender-sensitive approach to all its financing.  This makes it the first multilateral climate fund — and now with initial pledges for close to $10 billion the largest multilateral climate fund —  which is taking gender into account from the beginning.  This is encouraging. But in order for the GCF to be truly transformational, it must mainstream gender equality considerations throughout its policies and operational guidelines.  Its funding must prioritize the scaling up and replication of interventions that support women and their families.”

Schalatek also spoke to the need for additional monetary commitment to the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage:“We need to realize that even with a rapid ramp-up of gender-responsive climate financing, it will be unavoidable to deal with the massive damage already brought on by climate change in many poor countries which is beyond the ability of women and their families and communities to adapt.  This is why we need commitments for new and additional finance for Warsaw mechanism for Loss & Damage.”

Mrinalini Rai, an Indigenous representative of the Global Forest Coalition, originally from India and Nepal and currently based in Thailand described her frustration getting women’s rights solidly supported within the COP 20 negotiations:I do not understand why governments are so reluctant to agree on women’s equality, after all isn’t this part of human rights? We talk about empowerment, gender responsive, gender mainstreaming and all but they must be based on truly recognizing the rights of peoples:  indigenous peoples, those who are most vulnerable, and most importantly women.”

Rai continued: “Women are most impacted by climate change and they are the one who are ignored in these negotiations and all of the “elements” that the COP is discussing. They should begin by recognizing the rights of the most vulnerable and making them central to the climate discussion, not in the periphery.”

Maria Theresa Lauron, Programme Manager at IBON Foundation – International from the Philippines and a member of Asian Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) spoke passionately about the need to remember the historic responsibilities of the nations that have contributed the most to climate change and their moral responsibility to take action to help those who have contributed the least and yet been impacted the most.

Lauron spelled it out clearly:“For us we need to redefine what a successful outcome here is at Lima. One of the more fundamental things that is being negated at this meeting is the issue of historical responsibility. True climate change a is a global problem, but again some are more responsible than others and, especially, some are more in a position to provide resources and assistance for the impacts affecting those who have contributed the least but are in a very vulnerable position to adapt.”

Taking it further on the frustration of the concept of “Climate Adaptation” she said:“Adaptation. I hate that word. Nobody really adapts to climate change. How can you adapt to climate change when your loved ones have drowned, when your homes have been washed away. There is no adapting to impacts of climate change!”

Summing up the overall sentiment of the Women’s Caucus and the Women and Gender Constituency in their Gender Day message, Lauron closed:“What do women want?  Women want system change, not climate change! We will [continue to] fight for justice here in Lima and outside in the streets.”

An archived webcast of this press conference may be found here: