Seeking Climate Justice: Why Women Must Be Part Of The Solution To Climate Change

Imagine a great lumbering beast with 200 legs, each with their own brain, each pulling the beast in a different direction and the beast valiantly trying to stay on course;  that’s kind of like climate negotiations at the UN, 197 countries all trying to reach an agreement to solve climate change. Except no one is experiencing the same reality, no one has the same priorities and each has very little wiggle room.  It’s this chaos that I entered into in Bonn in May 2018 and in this chaos I believe we need to find a place for the inclusion of gender.

The legs of the beast will gather again later this year, they will meet in Poland to agree on what is called The Paris Rulebook. This document will lay out how, as a collection of countries, we will reduce the effects of global warming and critically, decide how each country will have to report on their own plans to achieve these reductions.

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What does this have to do with women? Where do we fit into the beast? Why do we need to fit into the beast at all?

In 2009 in a Tsunami in Tonga and Samoa 70% of those who died were women.  During Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 61% of those who died were women. Increased female deaths are largely due to ineffective communication, men pass messages to men while women with limited access to up to date information remain unaware of the details of the danger until it is too late. Or if they are aware they may not be able to afford to escape.

...and it’s not just as simple as horrifying mortality rates. Studies show that climate disasters are also associated with increases in gender based violence. After Hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2005 abuse of women increased by 98%.

The stats show that climate change is not experienced in isolation, its impacts are felt differently the world over and women are more likely to feel these affects first and hardest, but current strategies aren’t taking this into account.

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That’s why I joined activists who are campaigning for the inclusion of gender (as well as other rights-based and people-centered issues ) in this Paris Rulebook.  This is important because if countries have to report on how they have considered gender in their strategies they are far more likely to actually include gender in their reduction strategies.


This isn’t to say women are weak objects that need taken care of in the face of climate change. In fact it has been demonstrated that empowerment of women and inclusion of their strengths in climate change projects will reduce the effects of global warming more successfully.


How do we achieve this empowerment and reduce the negative impacts on women?

  1. We need smarter solutions, in 2015 only 1% of funding went to women’s groups or women’s ministries. Financial support needs to be distributed with more consideration for how it will be used and who will have access to the funds.  

  2. We need representation, in the latest negotiations only 38% of country delegates were women (and the statistics don’t even offer a check box for anyone identifying as non-binary) increasing representation means that the perspective of women is more likely to be brought to the negotiating table.

  3. We need training; the language used at these negotiations is technical, inaccessible and frankly unwelcoming. Encouraging women to step into this arena and advocate is hard, so a little capacity building would go a long way - training up those who can represent communities that are the most vulnerable to climate change.

To achieve this at the UN climate talks we need someone who is in our corner. The UK negotiating team currently has an inverse gender balance with their latest delegation nearly 70% female. They are a friendly place to begin. That’s why myself and the organisation the UK Youth Climate Coalition are petitioning them to appoint a Gender Focal Point; someone to explicitly follow the gender discussions, to advocate for the inclusion of gender in the Rulebook, to point out that finances aren’t reaching women and to build the capacity of women to represent their countries at the negotiations.

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In short, what I have learnt in my time campaigning is that we can’t, and bluntly, shouldn’t attempt to untangle gender from the issue of climate change. They must be addressed as one for a solution that progresses gender rights as well as reduces global warming.

Article by Catriona Leggat

Community Team Coordinator at the UK Youth Climate Coalition. 

@ukycc