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Gender Target at COP15: Russia’s Single Word Objection Holds Up Process

Women doing on-the-spot training at COP15. Target 22 is being held up by a single word. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women doing on-the-spot training at COP15. Target 22 is being held up by a single word. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Montreal, Dec 19 2022 (IPS) - Since the beginning of the high-level segment, tensions have been steadily rising at the 15th meeting of the conference of the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) among all participants, including members of country delegation teams, NGOs, observers, monitors, and media. At the press events held daily at the media center and various other events in the Montreal Convention Center, an outburst of anger and frustration have become a common sight.

In the middle of such high drama, there is one corner at the COP – the Women’s Pavilion in the Palace Quebec room that presents a very different picture: a group of women sitting in a circle on low stools, intently listening to a fellow woman speak about easy and effective ways to connect, coordinate, and collaborate with their community members.

“That is a training in session,” says Mrinalini Rai – the director of Women4Biodiversity – a global coalition of dozens of women-led organizations worldwide working together to get gender equality mainstreamed into the CBD Global Biodiversity Framework.  In March this year, in the 3rd Working Group meeting of the CBD in Geneva, CBD first received a proposal for a stand-alone target on gender to the GBF, which, at that time, had 21 targets. The proposal was officially tabled by Costa Rica and supported by GRULAC – a group with 11 member countries from Latin America and West Africa. These are Guatemala, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, and Tanzania.  Today, barely nine months later, the GBF consists of 22 targets – an inclusion that reflects an extraordinary level of coordination among the women’s coalition and their astonishing level of lobbying with different parties.

Target 22 at COP15: A Quick Look

Target 22 aims to “Ensure women and girls equitable access and benefits from conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as their informed and effective participation at all levels of policy and decision-making related to biodiversity.”

On the sidelines of the high-level segment of COP15, Rai spoke to IPS News on the struggle that has gone behind the current status of Target 22, the level of support it has received from the parties, and the area of contention that still remain to be resolved.

“It has been really a long journey that has taken years of advocacy, lobbying, discourses, and consultations around the importance of recognizing rights of all women and girls at the heart of the Convention,” Rai says candidly before adding that the gender target has received overwhelming support of all parties of the biodiversity convention at COP15. “There are 196 parties to this convention apart from the US, which is a non-party, and the Holy See (the Vatican). Right now, nobody has objected to having a target (22),” Rai reveals.

Mrinalini Rai, Coordinator if Women's Caucus. Stella Paul/IPS

Mrinalini Rai, Coordinator of Women’s Caucus. Stella Paul/IPS

The reason is simple: mainstreaming gender into all the targets and goals of the biodiversity framework seems easier to perceive and understand far more easily than the other cross-cutting themes like finance or human rights. “If you are looking at how gender mainstreams into COP15 targets, for example, Access and Benefit Sharing, traditional knowledge, etc. – you immediately think of knowledge of women and then how do you ensure women have access. There are some very complicated issues in the COP like DSI (Digital Sequencing Information), invasive species, marine, and coastal biodiversity, etc., but whatever spaces you are looking at, gender ties to it,’ Rai says.

Gender-responsive vs. Gender sensitive – the last remaining challenge

Despite its broad support, however, the target doesn’t have a completely clean text yet. Incredibly, a single country – Russia – has raised objections to a single word, putting that within brackets.

According to Rai, on the opening day of COP15, in the working group’s plenary, Russia put a bracket on the ‘responsiveness’ in the text. This means that although the rest of the text is clean, the target 22 is not ready to be adopted yet because of this single bracket. However, the Women’s Caucus – a group of civil society organizations that is the main focal contact for all gender-related issues and has support from the CBD secretariat – is talking to the Russian delegation and pursuing them to either lift their objection or come up with an alternative that will be acceptable to all.

“Russia said that they want to replace “gender-responsive” with the term “gender-sensitive”. Now, for us, the word sensitive doesn’t really mean anything concrete. It is like being aware of something. You have been sensitized about gender, so now you are gender-sensitive or aware of gender. But the term “gender-responsive” demands action; it means there is an action for you to take and to be held accountable,” Rai explains.

Preparing for the Next Steps

While the lobbying continues, several Women’s Caucus members are already thinking ahead of COP15, strategizing for the time when countries will move to the implementation phase of the Gender Action Plan.

“It will be crucial how everything unfolds at the local level. At this point, it feels a little concerning to the national policies of respective countries in designing a compatible program for women-based organizations and women in the community to have access to finance. But as we see practically, it’s very hard for women to have that access because, one, they are not in any structure that could get them financing, and two, women, particularly in the rural areas, can’t even have access to the necessities, let alone access finance for climate or biodiversity. So, it’s important to engage grassroots women and civil society in the planning mechanism so that financing can be down streamed,” says Tsegaye Frezer Yeheyis, who heads Mahibere Hitwot of Social Development – an Ethiopian NGO and member of the Women’s Caucus.

Sharon Ruthia, a lawyer from Kenya who counsels on gender and biodiversity, further adds, “it will be important for the countries to design a mechanism to build the capacity of women – technically and financially,’

And how can gender be mainstreamed into crucial issues like DSI outside the GBF and are also contentious?  Cecilia Githaiga, another lawyer from Women4Biodiversity, shares some insights: “The biggest challenge (for gender mainstreaming is that the discussions on Nagoya Protocol are very fragmented at this moment. It would be good if these discussions were focused, then there would be a single mechanism for reporting, and that would help us women (who are not able to spread all over) still follow up, monitor, and tell when we are making progress and when there is a need for upscaling.’

When the whole chance of the target is hanging by the thread of one word, it’s easy to be frustrated, especially after crossing such a long journey. However, Target 22 advocates are making a brave effort to be positive. “We do have parties who support the word ‘responsiveness,’ so we are hoping that all 195 countries will support it. This hasn’t yet come to the working groups or the contact groups, so we are keeping an eye on that,” Rai concludes in a hopeful voice.

Note: The last bracket on Gender Target on the term “gender-responsive” was lifted, and the target was adopted when all parties of COP15 formally adopted the Global Biodiversity Framework late last night.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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