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U.N. Climate Body Urged to Take Lead in Gender Focus

Megan Iacobini de Fazio

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 8 2010 (IPS) - Two weeks before the 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) review summit at the United Nations, concerns are being raised that gender equality is still largely divorced from efforts to address climate change, even though women have a critical role to play in solving – and are often most affected by – the problem.

Rebecca Pearl, a senior policy advisor for Climate Change at Oxfam America, told IPS that the two MDGs “are often seen in isolation and there is little overlap with the streams of implementation to ensure that environmental initiatives include a gender approach”.

Many organisations and scientific bodies that deal with climate change still lack a gendered approach to their research and ignore the different ways in which the sexes may be affected by natural disasters, she said.

“It is important to continue building awareness that responses to climate change must address women’s and men’s different responsibilities and needs,” Pearl said. “A gender-sensitive approach is prerequisite to the success of any climate intervention, and many efforts fail because the women are left out.”

Although women are more adversely affected by natural disasters, because of their already disadvantaged position within many societies and because of their reliance on the environment, they have also proven more adept at mobilising communities in responding to disasters or motivating them in adapting to climate change.

There are a number of NGOs working on gender and climate change, many of which collaborate under the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) which was launched at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 and now includes 25 institutions, both United Nations and civil society organisations.

Pearl told IPS that when the GGCA was launched it set out to accomplish a number of goals.

One is to establish a global policy on gender and climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The UNFCC is one of only three major multilateral environmental agreements that does not have a strong gender approach,” Pearl noted.

The other multilateral agreements are the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which is legally binding, together with a number of ECOSOC resolutions should influence the UNFCCC to take action, Pearl told IPS.

However the UNFCCC has so far ignored these mandates, preferring to utilise the globally agreed language of the Hyogo Framework for Action, which deals with disaster risk reduction.

An advocacy group led by Women’s Environment and Development Organisation and ENERGIA, an international network on gender and sustainable energy, has worked to put gender on the climate and energy agenda. The two organisations succeeded in making governments include more than 30 references to gender in the text of the UNFCCC in 2009.

The network of NGOs “hopes to build awareness of the gender dimensions of climate change”. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with other NGOs and U.N. agencies, for example, created the first training manual on gender and climate change.

The manual contains a large amount of information for civil society, UNFCCC, NGOs and U.N. agencies on how to conduct global and regional trainings.

Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor for IUCN, told IPS that “the IUCN has been dealing with major environmental conventions for years but decided to adopt a more structured strategy with the UNFCCC, to underline the importance of linking gender and climate change.”

The manual describes a number of case studies on small-scale projects which aim to promote environmental sustainability and simultaneously empower women.

One such case is that of the Mama Watoto Group, which has been running an afforestation programme in the Kakamenga region in western Kenya since 1994.

The project, comprised of 28 women and their families, started when, due to soil erosion and infertility, women were forced to collect firewood illegally from the neighbouring National Forest reserve. By doing so, they exposed themselves to the risk of fines while also damaging the surrounding area and contributing to the general degradation of the land.

The goals of the project were initially only to reduce overexploitation of forest resources and find an alternative source of income for the communities.

However, while succeeding in achieving these aims, the project has also empowered women by putting them in charge of the afforestation programme, in which women plant fast- growing trees on their own land.

By having a diverse source of income, women are also less at risk of being the worst affected by future threats of climate change, such as floods, drought and landslides.

This is an example of how, by educating women in climate and environmental matters, considerable benefits can be achieved both in improving the lives and social status of the women themselves and in mitigating the consequences of climate and environmental change.

“The programmes are very well received and applauded at community level, both by women’s and men’s groups,” Aguilar told IPS, adding that “the biggest opposition comes from institutions and decision makers, experts on the environment who however do not understand the social dimension of climate change.”

“Often,” Pearl said, “women are not included in local decision making bodies even though they may know the most about the local seed varieties, water sources, and the resource needs of their families and communities.”

“However, any intervention, whether in the realm of development in general or climate change specifically, has the potential to simultaneously promote women’s leadership,” she added.

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