Lack of women in negotiations raises concerns

Shirley Djukurna Krenak sits on a chair and tucks her hair behind her ear

Shirley Djukurna Krenak to attend COP27 to speak on the importance of Indigenous women’s knowledge

Too few women are taking part in COP27 climate negotiations, charities, activists and politicians warn.

BBC analysis has found that women make up less than 34% of countries’ negotiating teams at the UN summit in Egypt.

This is despite evidence that women bear a disproportionate burden from climate change.

Government officials and campaigners say climate change cannot be tackled without more representation and women’s lives will deteriorate as a result.

Shirley Djukurna Krenak, an indigenous woman from the Krenak people of Minas Gerais, Brazil, told the BBC that women have always been “warriors” for the planet.

She said women understand “what it means to live in community,” and therefore what it means to care for others and the natural world.

Shirley told the BBC that Indigenous women in particular have always fought for environmental protection and “should be respected and people should listen to us”.

Last week, world leaders gathered at the COP27 summit and took the inaugural “family photo.” There were 110 leaders present, but only 10 were women.

This is one of the lowest concentrations of women at these UN climate summits — more commonly known as COPs, according to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), which tracks women’s participation in such events.

World leaders stand together in front of a UN logo on stage

World leaders gathered at the UN climate summit in Egypt, but there was a notable absence of women

The male skewness among leaders reflected a broader trend in the delegation teams countries have sent. Analysis by the BBC of the list of participants showed that less than 34% of the country’s negotiating staff were women. Some teams were over 90% male.

These delegation teams participate in the negotiations at the conference on key climate issues such as financing and limiting the use of fossil fuels.

In 2011, countries pledged to increase women’s participation in these conversations, but the share has fallen this year since a peak of 40% in 2018, WEDO said.

Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, environment minister of Rwanda – which has 52% women in its cabinet – told the BBC that the results of the negotiations will be affected by the lack of women participating.

This was a sentiment echoed by Rep. Kathy Castor, chair of the US Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She told the BBC at COP27 that the presence of women was vital.

“It is absolutely fundamental to climate action that we educate young women and girls, but that means they have to sit around the table at international conferences,” she said.

Female participation in country delegations (%).  .  Due to COVID-19, no summit was held in 2020.

Female participation in country delegations (%). . Due to COVID-19, no summit was held in 2020.

On Monday, a new report from the charity ActionAid revealed that women and girls face greater and specific risks as the climate crisis worsens.

The report reveals that in many developing countries – which are facing the worst impacts of climate change – women have a greater responsibility for securing water, food and fuel for their families, which can be more difficult during floods, droughts or other climate-related crises.

The majority of farm workers are also women, so when there is a severe drought, as is currently the case in East Africa, their income can be drastically reduced. The UN estimates that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.

Women stand in greenhouse with her arm resting

Jeniffer Kibon, a Kenyan farmer who works for ActionAid and has seen her income drop due to recent droughts

Dr. Sila Monthe is an International Rescue Committee health manager who currently works at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She told the BBC she has seen increased nutrient deficiencies in women and young girls in the drought-stricken area “because they often eat last and worst”.

There is also concern that the further afield women go to get food and water, the more they are at risk of violence.

Sophie Rigg, senior climate adviser at ActionAid, told the BBC that climate change is exacerbating gender inequality and that the solutions discussed at COP27 need to be tailored to the specific issues women face.

Dr Sila holds a small baby in her arms in a hospital

Dr. Sila Monthe has seen more cases of nutrient deficiencies in young girls and women during the climate crisis

And according to the UN, young women are currently leading the charge on climate action. Some of the most famous lawsuits brought against governments for inaction on climate change have been brought by women.

World Bank Global Director for Gender, Hana Brixi, said there is growing evidence that women’s participation improves outcomes in global negotiations such as COP27.

ActionAid UK’s Ms Rigg agrees: “There’s no escaping it when women are in the room, they are creating solutions that are proven to be more sustainable.”

That’s why Ms Brixi said she sees progress in women’s participation as organizations and governments become aware of the impact they can have.

BBC analysis of the country teams at COP27 in Egypt shows that European, North American and island nations are more likely to have balanced teams, while African and Middle Eastern countries are more likely to have male teams.

Ms Castor, from the US delegation, said her country’s negotiators have raised the issue of women’s participation with this year’s hosts in Egypt and will do so with other countries.

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