Today at COP21, a focus for at least one of the meetings was how to achieve transformative solutions for both climate and gender justice. The meeting emphasized gender and economic disparities in developing countries and the fact that climate change does not affect men and women on the same level.
For much of the developing world, climate change is a fact of life. It is difficult to find climate deniers in these areas. In poor, rural areas in Nepal, climate change is already affecting day-to-day life and has become an “issue of survival” according to panelist Alina Saba.There the melting glaciers are making traditional subsistence living almost impossible. Specifically, in these developing parts of the world it is the women who are most vulnerable to climate change while also being the ones most excluded from decision making and most expendable to a world “focused on maximizing profits and consumption.” In much of the world indigenous women are at the front lines of climate change, where they are in charge of producing and gathering food without being able to contribute to decision making processes.
Despite the difficulties facing women in many developing countries, when they are given a seat at the decision-making table women tend to incite real change. For example in Bangladesh salinity and sea level rise has made it nearly impossible for women to grow traditional crops. There, women were at the forefront of an initiative to begin hanging vegetable gardens throughout the country to battle these climate change impacts. The success of this project is evidence that when women are able to come together as an agent for solutions they can help build local movements to tackle large-scale problems.
However, the gender disparities at the climate change forefront are not limited only to those women in rural areas. In cities, where low-carbon lifestyles are more accessible, the increasing complexity of urban systems are also connected with increasing inequalities- including gender inequalities. According to Gotelind Alber of Women for Climate Justice, female-headed households tend to be some of the poorest in urban areas. Additionally, even amongst homes headed by both men and women, there tend to be disparities within the household. Financial inequality is not always homogenous within a household. Often women tend to be worse off with less financial stability and more day-to-day duties. Thus mitigation and adaptation planning in urban areas will require integration of all sectors, and must include gender issues.
The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), a stakeholder group of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, works to ensure that women’s voices and rights are embedded in all aspects of the UNFCCC framework and that gender equality and women’s rights are at the center of discussions. At the meeting, Kate Lappin of WGC, discussed climate change issues in a world that devalues women’s unpaid work. She specifically focused on the programs that attempt to redistribute work and build an energy democracy.
The idea behind an energy democracy is that it rejects the idea of net zero emissions on the premise that developed countries have historically contributed too much to global emissions. For example, the United States emits 176 times more carbon per capita than Nepal. Lappin suggests replacing a net zero emissions goal with goals that require zero emissions for developed countries while still requiring them to fulfill their financing obligations to developing countries.
Moving forward, city planning and climate negotiations should include equal participation of women at all levels. Further, negotiations and decisions must lead to modified policies to have a gender responsive climate policy. When women are included in the decision making process, effective change is delivered.