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Women’s rights advocacy: From one emergency to the next

Dr Virginie Le Masson attended COP27 this month and shares her observations of the event and the challenges that remain for gender justice and equality in development and climate change action.

Gina Cortés Valderrama, Women and Gender Constituency, and Jenifer Lasimbang, International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change. Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

November is always an intense month for those who follow progress on gender equality in the international development agenda. It starts with the annual Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and ends with the United Nations 16 days campaign for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.

This year, COP27, the two-week conference of governments to develop the limitations on greenhouse gas emissions, took place in Egypt between the 7th and 20th November 2022, and left many observers frustrated. The Women and Gender Constituency summarised: “As feminists and women’s rights advocates strategized daily to advocate for gender-just and human rights-based climate action, negotiators once again ignored the urgency of our current climate crisis.”

This ignorance was apparent in the set up and the logistics of the conference. As Mwanahamisi Singano, WEDO Senior Policy Lead from Tanzania, explained: “Observers were consistently locked out of the negotiations rooms for a repeated ‘lack of sitting space’ excuse, as if they did not know how many people they have accredited” I attended COP27 as an observer myself and was left out of one of the informal consultation meetings for ‘security reasons’.

All kinds of logistical issues got in the way of open, efficient and fruitful discussions to progress the Gender action Plan of the Lima Work Programme on Gender. Sometimes the room was too small, sometimes the aircon was too loud, or mandated events got side-lined altogether. This happened to a Joint dialogue with the Facilitative Working Group of Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, who work to advance the leadership of indigenous women. Facilitators, speakers and those of us who wanted to attend got moved last minute to a different room, where the audio equipment and translation facilities were not ready – which meant a two-hour delay of an event that was already scheduled in the evening.

Equal representation and participation of women also went out the window at this COP. The number of women on country delegations decreased compared to the previous year, according to a report from the UNFCCC secretariat. Some headlines rightly called out “The COP men’s club” after seeing the embarrassing ratio of only 7 women among the 110 world leaders at the summit.

Marisa Hutchinson, from International Women's Rights Action Watch - Asia Pacific added: “Gender experts and women’s rights advocates were left out of the rooms while Parties tinkered at the edges of weak and vague text that failed to advance critical issues at this intersection, nor deliver adequate funding. We demand that the social protection of women and girls in all their diversity be at the forefront of the gender and climate change negotiations of the UNFCCC.”

The call for social protection encompasses all policies, services and funding that provide people - not just women and girls, nutrition, education, healthcare, social inclusion, training and protection of their rights. Social protection is thus instrumental to achieving the sustainable development goals, themselves crucial to support adaptation to climate change and the reduction of disaster risks. Yet, it is far from being considered and addressed as one of the key priorities of the implementation of the Paris Agreement alongside issues of mitigation, adaptation or Loss and Damage.

Without strong and sustained social protection schemes, people who are socially, economically and politically marginalised in their daily lives are the first ones to suffer from a myriad of risks, from food insecurity, to unemployment, to pervasive gender inequalities – the worst manifestation of which is violence against women, girls and gender minorities. These ‘everyday risks’ - aggravated by environmental risks and climate change, not caused by them - must be tackled alongside the drastic reduction of greenhouse gases, for any ‘climate solutions’ to be deemed just and equitable.

While the climate talks are taking a break, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Friday, will mark the launch of the UNiTE campaign (Nov 25- Dec 10) — an initiative of 16 days of activism for the prevention of violence against women and to support feminist movements around the world to resist the rollback on women’s rights. Another reminder that when these rights are curtailed, there can be no advancement of any development goals.

Board outside the COP27 venue in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 10th 2022. Photo: Virginie Le Masson.

Climate Action at COP27. Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

Art by Turkish multimedia artist Deniz Sağdıç, “Ready Remade” Serisi, Waste Plastic Bag Pieces, 2022, presented at the Turkish Pavillion, COP27. Photo: Virginie Le Masson

Author Bio

Dr Virginie Le Masson is the Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Lead for GRRIPP and a Senior Research Fellow and co-Director of the Centre for Gender and Disaster at UCL’s Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction. Virginie is also a Research Associate with the Overseas Development Institute. Twitter: @Virginie_LeM.


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