Health Policy

Women and Climate Change: Expectations of COP26

By - World Healthcare Journal

Women and Climate Change: Expectations of COP26

While the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest global emergency in the short term, over the longer-term climate change remains the greatest threat to humanity.

Globally, the systematic discrimination of women has led to gender-differentiated impacts of climate change. Over 60 international human rights instruments prohibit discrimination based on gender. However, until sufficient progress is made to ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in climate change adaptation and mitigation, this global phenomenon will continue to disproportionately disadvantage them.

International gender and climate initiatives are more important now than ever before. A more inclusive, gender-responsive approach is not only a moral and legal imperative, but also facilitates a more effective means of climate action. The 26th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2021 presents an opportunity for parties to identify knowledge gaps within the current Gender Action Plan (GAP), facilitate knowledge exchange and establish a coherent agenda for action.

Gendered Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change can unevenly impact the mental and physical health of women, who are more likely to die from extreme weather events than their male counterparts, are more psychologically and physically burdened by water scarcity and are at a greater risk of death and cardiovascular disease due to indoor air pollution and inefficient fuel usage.

Extreme weather events can damage or destroy essential infrastructure, reducing the accessibility of reproductive and sexual health services. Additionally, women face a greater risk of physical, sexual and domestic violence in the aftermath of a climate disaster. This combination of factors has led to many unnecessary deaths and a decreased life expectancy for female survivors.

Climate-induced loss of livelihoods or deterioration of working conditions can have particularly negative impacts on women who are engaged in low paid manual work, without secure rights or land access. This deepens gendered employment and income inequalities in a world where women are already beleaguered by challenges.

When given equal access to productive resources, women’s knowledge of agriculture, conservation and natural resource management could increase crop yields by 20-30 per cent, reducing global hunger by 12-17 per cent. Additionally, carbon dioxide could be reduced by 2.1 gigatons by 2050. Evidently, the participation of women at all levels of decision making is paramount to protecting health and catalysing more effective climate action.

Policy Frameworks 

The future is not all bleak. Gender has been addressed at length by the UNFCC within the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, the GAP and the Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG). At an institutional level, the support for gender mainstreaming is expanding. For example, reflecting on the annual COP, we notice an increase in the time and attention devoted towards gender equality and the empowerment of women as key stakeholders in climate action.

The president of COP25, Carolina Schmidt asserted: “Time for action is not a slogan. It is a decision. It is a moral imperative. For that, it is urgent to incorporate gender approaches in climate change policies. ” 

Ostensibly, these words were verified in the outcome of last year’s conference where parties agreed to adopt a new and enhanced GAP to strengthen gender responsiveness within climate policy. The enhanced GAP culminates the goals of the LWPG and the GAP using five priority areas: 

  1. Capacity building, knowledge management and communication
  2. Gender balance, participation and women’s leadership 
  3. Coherence
  4. Gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation
  5. Monitoring and reporting 

Twenty activities and thirty-five output indicators are included within these key areas, each of which is to be reviewed in June 2022.

Current Progress 

How has the enhanced GAP facilitated change in theory and practice so far? Women’s participation in climate delegations has increased by 3-5 per cent year on year, for the last three years. During this same timeframe, the percentage of climate investment programmes with sex-disaggregated indicators increased from 35 to 67 per cent and the percentage of programmes with women-specific activities increased from 41 to 76 per cent. A dedicated ‘Gender Day’ was established on 10 December 2019 and provides technical guidance on how to incorporate gender within National Action Plans (NAP’s) and Technology Needs Assessments (TNA’s). Case studies of best practice have been showcased from countries like India and Bhutan, where rural women have been trained to install and maintain climate technologies, using innovative approaches to conquer the literacy barrier.

Despite such policy progress, current data suggests that female representation on constituted bodies remains deeply inequitable, averaging at 33 per cent. What’s more, only 20 per cent of TNA’s make reference to gender considerations to ensure women’s effective participation in stakeholder processes and decisions taken on technology needs.

Overall, there is a disconnect between policy and reality with respect to gender-responsive climate action. The 26th Annual COP provides the perfect platform to address these inconsistencies and better support women as agents of change.

Hopes for COP26

Parties are expected to take a more ambitious approach towards data collection, multisector coordination and education in a bid to better empower women to shape the climate agenda. There is strong political will to establish mandatory gender budgeting and gendered financial audits and there have been calls to establish clearer targets and indicators to increase the effectiveness of climate spending.

Moving forwards, a number of Parties and UN agencies recommend strengthening impact reporting measures, adding specific and measurable indicators to build a more robust and reliable evidence base. Gender quotas could be implemented to support efforts to improve gender balance on national delegations. Qualitative and quantitative evaluations of climate finance programs could be introduced through the development of data collection programmes. Ministries of women’s affairs or country equivalents could and should play a pivotal role in the design of all future climate change policies. Joint events and knowledge exchanges both within and beyond the COP could create a coherent timeline for action with more regularly reviewed aims and outcomes.

At COP26, Parties are expected to discuss these considerations to further enhance the GAP. In doing so, it is imperative for Parties to remain reflective of international guiding principles. Women’s participation within the climate agenda should not come along with the expectation that their involvement will result in a faster or more effective recovery. Doing so would place an additional burden on an already disadvantaged group and could even exacerbate gender inequalities. Rather, the fulfilment of human rights instruments and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development should act as a consistent driver of gender-responsive climate action.

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