Gender equality – a critical missing piece of the climate puzzle

Source(s): United Nations Environment Programme

Twenty-five years after the World Conference in Beijing placed gender equality firmly on the global agenda, women continue to struggle to realize these rights, with a new report by UN Women finding that the climate emergency, conflict and the alarming rise of exclusionary politics all threaten future progress towards gender equality.

According to the report, along with the economic costs of the climate crisis, a rise in displacement, and forced migration, poverty and insecurity will have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including through greater exposure to abuse and violence.

The statistics are stark: although 39 percent of women currently work in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector, just 14 percent of agricultural landholders are women. Men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers

“Women are vital for the management of and sustainable use of land and biodiversity resources,” explained Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Twitter. “Transforming the balance of power and working for gender equality is key to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. This is the ask for #GenerationEquality and it involves all of us.”

UNEP’s Global Gender and Environment Outlook 2016 (GGEO) identified gender inequality as one of the main challenges to advance the environmental dimension of sustainable development, as it has negative impacts on access, use and control of natural resources, as well as the right to a clean, safe and healthy environment for all. The GGEO further calls for the adoption of gender responsive approaches in addressing barriers to sustainable development.

The report states that adopting gender-responsive approaches makes environmental interventions longer-lasting and more transformative, from policies and programming related to the impact of climate change to issues around access to energy, water, sanitation, land and other natural resources.

Gender-responsive approaches must not only explicitly recognise girls’ and women’s diverse and gender-specific interests and needs, they must also ensure their participation and leadership in developing, implementing and monitoring mitigation and response actions.

According to UN Women, in order to catalyze systemic and lasting change, there is a need to vastly increase financing for gender equality, to harness the potential of technology and innovation and ensure that development is inclusive of women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination.


Despite the slow progress towards gender equality globally, there is reason to be hopeful this International Women’s Day, held under the theme I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.

Women – with young women like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate and Peru's Maria Alejandra Rodriguez Acha at the forefront – are using their voices to demand action to reduce carbon emissions, to include youthful and female voices in climate decision-making and to raise awareness of the damage humanity has done to our common planet.

And women are increasingly participating building on the existing body of science on climate and advocating for the environment; UNEP Champion of the Earth laureate Katharine Hayhoe dedicates her life to quantifying the effects of climate change and transforming public attitudes, while Joan Carling also a Champions of the Earth laureate, has defended the rights of native and marginalized peoples for over two decades.

In Brazil, Anna Luisa Beserra is creating innovative and sustainable technologies for water treatment and solid waste management, and Nepal’s Sonika Manandhar ‘s Green Energy Mobility platform (GEM) aims to make electric public transportation a quality alternative to private vehicles to combat climate change.

Kenya’s Wanjuhi Njoroge founded #SaveOurForestsKE, a campaign that raised awareness about the decimation of forests and led to a nine-month ban on national forest logging in the country.  Looking ahead, she said, “we have a huge opportunity of creating employment and dealing with unemployment rates if we looked at climate action as a business and every day, I am inspired by the potential that climate action has of creating enormous wealth.”

As the lead organisation to coordinate environmental matters within the United Nations System, UNEP has the responsibility to model good practice and drive the achievement of gender equality goals in all its activities, including assessments and analyses, norms, guidelines and methods. Guided by its medium-term strategy for 2018-2021, all UNEP policies, programmes and strategies during period “will incorporate a gender lens” using integrated gender responsive approaches.

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