Reflections from COP20, Day 8

Chiara Zanotelli and Daniele Savietto, Youth Press Agency

On Tuesday, COP20 hosted the third Gender Day, aiming to raise awareness on gender equality and the importance of women empowerment. COP20 could represent a milestone in the efforts for including women’s human rights and gender equality issues in a global process. Already, last year in Doha, a decision was adopted on promoting gender balance and facilitating broader participation of women inside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Ahead of next year’s celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action – a thorough consideration of gender equality in terms of practical decisions and not only hollow declarations – the time is ripe for further positive progress.

The Women and Gender Constituency has been putting serious efforts in the recognition of gender equality and human rights in all climate agreements, as crosscutting themes. Thus, to actively include the gender perspective in all the bodies and the discussions that are going on here in Lima, including those on climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as loss and damage.

Adaptability to climate change can be defined as the capacity of a person, group or country to anticipate, cope, resist and recover from the impacts of a given climate impact. Those who have access to fewer resources – such as technology, education and information – have greater difficulty in adapting. Many women can only dream of having access to the resources they need to build resilience and respond to climate change impacts.

It is time that decision makers admitted that women’s empowerment is not an option, but a must – in all sectors, in all UN conferences and at all decision-making levels. Change needs time, but just as the water erodes the stone when it flows towards the estuary, human rights are also gaining ground. No matter how resistant the opposition is to real change, things will happen when the time comes. Now is the time: let’s use this opportunity wisely. Let’s kill two birds with one stone. Exacerbating inequality by not adopting fair decisions will not be the solution.

Jessica Olson, Sierra Student Coalition

 As countries are called upon to raise ambitions regarding emissions targets, Gender Day stands as a reminder that ambition must encompass more cross-cutting issues. Gender Day emerged at COP18 in Doha and has since become an annual event. The day is filled with gender-themed side events and high-level sessions that serve as a vehicle for advancing conversations on gender equality. 

Gender Day at COP20 took a different tone than those of the past two years, with Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, setting the mood at a high-level lunch time event. Robinson acknowledged that gender equality has come a long way since the Beijing Declaration was adopted in 1995, but that there is still a long way to go. Robinson stated, “we need to continue to strengthen women’s rights and not let them backslide.” These remarks follow the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) decision on gender, which was finalised on Friday 5th December. The text denied the use of “gender equality” and instead utilises the less impactful term “gender balance”. This means that low ambition for equitable gender participation will remain the norm within the UNFCCC in Lima and beyond. 

In the past two years, Gender Day has served as a platform for discussing women’s vulnerability to climate change without necessarily talking about how women contribute at an international scale. Although women are on the frontline of the impacts of climate change, there are not appropriate avenues for them to share their experiences and knowledge within the UNFCCC. Because of this, the side events and panels on Gender Day tend to be one of the few venues where women’s positive contributions can be heard within the Conference. 

In order for Gender Day to fulfil its intended impact, the UNFCCC must fully recognise that gender equality is a human rights issue and address the institutional barriers that block progress. Gender Day must not only be about women, but should address the needs of all genders through gender responsive texts in the negotiations.