"Climate change summits are always dominated by white men”

In 2003, at the ninth Climate Change Conference in Milan (Italy), a small group of three women's organizations sat near the climate negotiations to discuss, informally, how gender issues should be on the climate agenda. Today, 18 years later, it is a key point, so much so that the COP26 presidency, in the hands of the United Kingdom, assigned a gender day on the agenda.

To learn about the progress that has been made, we spoke with German Gotelind Alber, founder of Gender CC, a network of more than 40 women's organizations that has followed the negotiations since their beginning to demand that solutions to the climate crisis should be gender responsive.

To what extent are women more vulnerable to climate change?

The reason is simple: if you are not in a situation of privilege, climate change will make everything more severe, because it increases inequalities. Of course, we recognize that poor people will be the most affected, but among the poorest people the most affected will be women, because in many countries and societies they oversee the family and, in the event of a disaster, they will be the ones in charge of taking children to safety. They are also in charge of food security, so the workload may increase with droughts. During floods we know that there are more deaths of women, sometimes because they are not taught to swim or sometimes because they cannot find shelter. There are countries, for example, where they do not find shelter because they are simply not allowed to be near men and, in others, they do not have access to information or disaster warning.

How can we think about climate solutions that take gender aspects into account?

By providing information about disasters that also reach women. Or thinking about shelters designed to make them feel safe, because it has also been shown that after climate disasters there is more sexual violence. Another point is that women do not have access to land, so compensation for damages or losses are only thought for those who do, so this is what we mean when we talk about gender-sensitive responses or solutions.

The playbook of the Paris Agreement is being negotiated currently, during this COP26. What does the document say about gender?

The word gender is right from the preamble of the Agreement, right besides human rights, which means that it should cut across all the articles. But what we have seen is that it has only been included in adaptation issues. Mitigation policies, for example, are not taking gender into account which could aggravate inequity. In Germany we did a study on the price of carbon, and we have found that, with the increase in the cost of energy, the most affected are the poor and, among them, women. The measures that have been considered to compensate for this cost increase are aimed at people who have cars, but many poor people and women do not have cars.

Could you give some examples of how to think of climate solutions that are gender responsive?

We need to look, for example, at what kind of technologies women benefit from, because they are not the same as men. And of course, there is finance, which is the most important issue on the COP26 agenda. How do we make sure that money for climate change also reaches women? This is a crucial question and although attempts have been made, such as with the Green Climate Fund (GCF), they are still small measures.

What does the GCF says about gender?

A few years ago, in 2008, there was a requirement that some of the climate finance should be allocated to women and gender issues. That is, that every dollar, pound, or euro that came out of the fund, needed a gender impact assessment to make sure that what they were spending also reached women. But this has not been achieved. And it's important that the people who are on the ground, on the front lines of climate change, have resources, because often they themselves know what the solutions are to address the crisis, but they need support to get there.

COP26 promised to be the most inclusive in history. Is it succeeding?

We have statistics on gender imbalance, and it has not improved. But we did find something very interesting: when there are important COPs, such as the one in Paris, the percentage of women goes down. And when they are not so mediatic, it goes up again, although always dominated by white men. That demonstrates a problem. Now, with the pandemic, everything has been more confusing and has made this COP26 lack many voices, especially from civil society.


This story was originally published in Spanish in El Espectador on November 9, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Banner image: Gotelind Alber, founder of Gender CC /  Credit: Global Gender and Climate Alliance.

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