Update from the UN Commission on the Status of Women

A CARE Delegation is currently attending the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an annual meeting in which world leaders meet to review progress on women’s rights. Martha Chouchena-Rojas writes:

UN Commission on the Status of Women:
Strong voices unite to call for gender equality and climate action-
Without women’s voices, we will fail 

I am proud to be with our CARE International delegation together with over 9,000 participants from civil society organizations from all over the world who have gathered in New York for two weeks. We are here for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an annual meeting in which world leaders meet to review progress on women’s rights. This year, CSW marks 20 years since an historic Platform of Action on Women’s Rights was agreed to by world leaders in Beijing. It also comes during a year in which world leaders are negotiating a new development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals, and a new Framework on Climate Change. This is a critical moment for women and girls.

With our delegation of colleagues coming from all regions we are working to influence the decisions being taken by governments and sharing what we know works – from engaging men in Burundi and the Balkans, ending child marriage in Jordan, integrating gender into community-based adaptation and building climate-resilient livelihoods in Africa and Asia, to getting the voices of women from disaster-affected communities into the UN World Humanitarian Summit. We are multiplying our impact beyond the communities with which we work, an approach that we are promoting in our programs from local to global levels.

Yesterday, CARE and the French Government jointly convened a high-level panel on “Gender Inequality and Climate Change: How to Tackle a Double Injustice”. The panel was co-sponsored by the International Conservation for Nature (IUCN), the Women’s Environmental and Development Organisation (WEDO) and NGO CSW NY. I had the pleasure to moderate a panel of inspiring leaders – French Secretary of State for Women’s Rights Pascale Boistard, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice Mary Robinson, Deputy UN Women Director Lakshmi Puri, and IUCN Global Gender Advisor Lorena Aguilar

It was thrilling to see over 500 people – from governments, civil society, women’s organizations and UN agencies – pack into the conference room. I was especially excited when, during the discussion, French Secretary of State for Women’s Rights Pascale Boistard proposed to hold a day-long meeting ahead of ‘COP 21’ to discuss the impact of climate change on women and girls, and the key role of women as agents of change. Indeed, France will host a critical UN meeting from November 30th to December 11th, in which world leaders will forge a new agreement on tackling climate change.

“Climate change decision making is a male world”: women excluded until 2010

As Mary Robinson put it yesterday: the world of climate change negotiations has been dominated by men, and focused on the experiences of men. But in societies where people are discriminated against based on gender, ethnicity, class, or caste, being a man or woman is often a decisive factor in determining the levels of risk they face from climatic shocks, extreme and uncertain weather, and changes in the environment and economy. Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. Women’s livelihoods rely on natural resources highly dependent on natural hazards. Therefore, extreme and successive droughts or floods significantly affect their ability to provide for themselves and their families. The resources and options people have to act on climate shocks and changes are also strongly dependent on gender norms and expectations. While women account for 60% to 80% of food production in developing countries, they hold only 10 to 20% of land titles, which limits their fallback options when the land they own can no longer be used for agriculture.

Women and girls are also key actors in the fight against climate change. We cannot fully address an issue of the magnitude of climate change while more than half the world’s population is unable to participate in both creating and implementing solutions.

 “Force the door open!”

 For many years, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was gender blind. Much progress has been achieved since 2009 when we started to work with other organizations in the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) in getting language on gender inserted into the UNFCCC. But we are far from getting the needed level of commitment that is required. Worryingly, we know that for both human rights and gender equality to be adequately reflected in the new agreement to be signed in Paris, there is still a long way to go.

Lakshmi Puri considered that “it is an injustice that climate talks were gender-blind until 2010”. She called on civil society groups to force the door open and make sure that gender equality is included in all climate action. She noted that many decision-makers still do not believe that there is a relationship between gender and climate change.

One step forward… but now a risk of going backwards

For Mary Robinson, climate change is the most severe human rights issue of the 21st century.  However, language supporting both human rights and gender equality in all climate action has not yet been secured in the UN climate talks. She emphasized the urgency of ensuring that the world does not take a step backwards and called for specific climate change impacts on women and girls to be fully acknowledged. She said that the latest Geneva talks language contributed to improve language for the new climate change agreement thanks to a strong push from civil society but that we must keep pressure up. Mary Robinson strongly argued in favour of linking women at the decision-making level with those who know the problems on the ground and are on the frontline of poverty and climate injustice.

Without women’s voices, we will fail.

Panellists mentioned the mounting opposition to including gender equality in the new climate change agreement. They also agreed that, if women’s voices are excluded, the world will fail to tackle climate change. “Women united can be a force to fight climate change”, said French Secretary of State Pascale Boistard.

Key steps

The key steps that the panel recommended to ensure that gender equality is included in the climate change talks are:

  • We need to ensure a universal rights-based ambitious and legally binding climate agreement that promotes human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • There needs to be more champions to ensure that gender is included in relevant areas, including adaptation and loss and damage, but also mitigation, means of implementation and accountability.
  • Support for gender equality language is needed from all groups, including the G77 and China. This is especially critical for people leaving in poverty and for women, whom need most support.
  • Civil society needs to showcase what we are doing to advance gender equality and empowerment, bringing evidence from the ground, proving that this is not something that is imposed from the top.
  • We need to work to ensure implementation of the existing decisions including the Lima Work Programme on Gender and we need to do this now.
  • We need a strong boost in support for climate change but also in the post 2015 sustainable development agenda, Finance for Development meeting in Addis, ensuring links between these processes to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Sit with us. Fight with us.”

The panel concluded with all panellists urging all actors in the room, including  civil society groups, champion governments such as France,  UN agencies, and other stakeholders to work together to fight for the inclusion of gender equality in the climate change agreement. Lorena Aguilar reminded that for poor women, climate change is a matter of life or death and called on civil society groups everywhere to join and fight with us.  “Nous voulons prendre la Bastille!” (“We must take the Bastille!”), Lakshmi Puri urged the audience.