Time to act: Let’s make this the century of women’s empowerment and rights

Verona Collantes, UN Women

Gender equality and women’s empowerment didn’t make it to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. Its sister conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) were ahead of the race, with the recognition of women’s agency and their contribution to advancing the goals of those two Conventions.

Parties to the UNFCCC discussing the elements of the new climate agreement to be adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015 have proposed the inclusion of gender-specific references for the new agreement’s preamble and related elements including on adaptation, mitigation, capacity-building and finance.

Rightfully, the Parties are aligning their efforts to advance gender equality in the climate change discourse and to capture gender dimensions in the new agreement. After all, as the UN Secretary-General (SG) underscores in his Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda – The Road to Dignity, “This is the century of women: we will not realise our full potential if half of humanity continues to be held back.”

Gender equality is an unfinished development agenda. Sustainable development will remain elusive unless we address the unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities that perpetuate gender inequalities and poverty; tackle deeply entrenched socio-cultural norms and practices that justify and condone violence and discrimination against women and girls and their exclusion from decision-making processes; and their unequal access to and ownership of productive resources. The international community has heard this in many consultations, discussion and studies, and accordingly the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals has proposed Goal 5: Advance Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Thus, the headway that is now seen in the Parties’ discussions on the elements of a new climate change agreement – as also reflected in the Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) Non-Paper on the elements for a draft negotiating text – should be a basis to further explore and specify how a gender equality perspective and actions to advance women’s voices and rights in the new agreement can be strengthened. Gender equality language should be present throughout the agreement – in both the preamble, as well as the operative paragraphs.

Specifically, to set the context, a preambular paragraph on recognising international instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Agenda 21, The Future We Want (Rio+20 Outcome document) and the outcomes of the two other Rio Conventions. A separate paragraph on guiding principles should include gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, together with human rights and non-discrimination.

In addition, it is important for each of the relevant sections to be included in the agreement – e.g., on adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology and capacity building (and other means of implementation), and monitoring and accountability framework – to contain concrete actions aimed at advancing gender equality and women’s participation and leadership, as well as the integration of gender-responsive approaches in any subsequent implementation programmes (relevant to the areas listed above).

In the course of the remaining negotiation days, we should be reminded of the SG’s call in his Synthesis report “This is no time to succumb to political expediency, or to tolerate the lowest common denominators.” Climate change impacts are not gender-neutral and require strong gender-responsive actions. Addressing climate change requires the involvement of all of us – women, men, boys and girls, and it requires bold action at all levels.

Let’s all work together to get this message to every negotiator so we get everyone to act for gender equality now!

This article represents the view of the author and not that of her organisation.