The role of gender in climate action, as well as equitable representation at COP26, was a consistent theme throughout the conference – even if the COP26 programme did not reflect this. The lack of representation for women has been a recurring issue for the UNFCCC’s COP conferences throughout the years, one which has left the process open to significant criticism. UNFCCC’s own 2021 Gender Composition report found women only made up 33% of constituted bodies positions (i.e. committees and boards tasked with an area of climate action e.g. the Green Climate Fund), while men were 60% of active speakers in the main plenaries (i.e. were all parties come together) and spoke for 74% of the time. This highlights that even when there are efforts to achieve a gender balance in the room, men are still speaking for the majority of the time. COP26 dedicated a themed day to ‘Gender’ (although this day was also shared with ‘Science and Innovation’). A (partially) dedicated day to gender was a welcomed, all be it small, step given the historical lack of representation and access of women and girls to climate discussions, policymaking, and finance. However, greater efforts are still needed to embed gender throughout the COP process and achieve equal representation in every topic discussed at COP, from energy to finance to adaptation, and much more, as the gendered experiences of climate change and climate action cannot be limited to a single day.
The day included high-level events highlighting the gendered impact of climate change and the barriers faced by women and girls in addressing climate change. Some highlights of the day include an appearance of ‘Little Amal’, a giant puppet representing a Syrian refugee girl, a speech by Brianna Fruean (Samoan climate activist) and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There was also a panel lead by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Fatou Jeng (Clean Earth Gambia), Asa Regner (UN Women), and Tarcila Rivera Xea (Chirapaq).
Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean, joined by Little Amal, described the systematic marginalisation of women and girls, particularly in climate-vulnerable countries. She described how this continues to compound existing inequalities and place the burden of climate change impacts on the shoulders of women and girls. Later, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for nations to “build back better with women” while announcing the USA’s intention to double international climate finance. She underlined that addressing climate change is a matter of justice and equality.
At the Presidency event Advancing Gender Equality in Climate Action, a panel lead by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on world leaders to promote gender equality and enable women and girls to lead on solutions to address the often-gendered impacts of climate change. The First Minister also highlighted the struggle faced by women and girls from the Global South, recognising that this is as a central issue of climate justice. Nicola Sturgeon then committed the Scottish Government to join the efforts of the Feminist Action for Climate Justice coalition. While recognising that sitting on a panel about gender at COP26 represented progress, the First Minister asked the panel how to keep this hope going and reflected that woman must drive the change, and firmly place gender justice and climate change as a human rights issue. Asa Regner highlighted that woman in positions of power create legislation and allocation for more resources towards climate change. This is important as only 38% of ODA funding targets gender equality and, despite greater interest in meetings to discuss gender, activists for gender equality have been restricted and funding for gender-focused projects reduced.
Fatou Jeng explained that gender is still not included in adaptation planning, despite women’s significant role in agriculture. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerability to climate change. In addition, Fatou said women and girls need to be empowered. There needs to be opportunities for capacity building among women to meaningfully participate and share knowledge and this needs to be reflect in NDCs. Climate change needs to be acknowledged as a human rights issue – an element she said had not been reflected in the negotiations. Tarcila Rivera Xea, a Quechua activist and member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, summarised much of the panel by that stating women are not pleading to be supported, but demanding empowerment at the national and local level and within civil society.
An event chaired by Professor Tahseen Jafry, Director of the Centre, on Advancing Equitable, Just & Gender Sensitive Climate Finance for ALL outlined the work of an initiative that calls on world governments and civil society to make long-term commitment to support equitable finance for those living in climate-hit regions. The event’s panel included Mary Robinson (Chair of the Elders), Dr. Beth Dunford (African Development Bank), Gareth Philips (African Development Bank), Salina Sanou (Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance), Salma Kadry (Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding) and Jacinta Silakan (Sang’ida Foundation).
Professor Jafry said “New mechanisms and sources of climate finance are urgently required to redress shortfalls in current financial architectures, in particular, shortfalls in climate finance for women and girls”. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Pamela Gillies CBE, Glasgow Caledonian University, speaking before the panel, highlighted that the negotiation and this new initiative is an opportunity to promote practical action on the ground and ensure finance is delivered fairly and gets those who need it the most.
Mary Robinson made the point that “if we don’t make climate finance gender-sensitive, it becomes gender neutral and that means it isn’t going to where it needs to be.” Dr Robinson explained that women and girls are more likely to die in extreme weather events, and therefore, it was vital climate finance reaches them. Salma Kadry went on to highlight the many issues caused climate change disproportionately impacts the lives of women and girls, including food insecurity, migration and displacement, gender-based violence, and sex trafficking, Whereas, Gareth Philips, discussing the finance landscape, highlighted one problem in that “women are largely seen as less bankable than men because they don’t have the collateral, so they find it difficult to access loans”. The limitations of the financial sector also affect adaptation as the area is “economically attractive” but not “financially attractive” as adaptation. For example, flood defences might have economic worth in protecting assets, but this does not necessarily generate finance, hence private sector support has been very limited. Summarising much of the procedural injustices facing women, Salina Sanou said “the current climate finance guidelines are so stringent they don’t allow women at a grassroots level to access it. Today’s platform is one way of looking at how we can address this because, at the moment, climate finance is gender blind.” The key message from the event was the need for climate finance to stop being “gender blind”; and this initiative calls on world governments and society to make a commitment to support equitable finance for women and girls.
The final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact acknowledges that parties should “promote and consider… gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”, as well as “urges” and “encourages” parties to consider gender equality and empowerment of women in implementation of climate action. Women and girls are half of the world population, and climate change has demonstrable gendered impacts, and therefore, gender perspectives are integral to effective climate action. As such, the Pact’s language does not go far enough and fails to mention gender at all under the headings of ‘adaptation’, ‘adaptation finance’, or the ‘finance’ section. Whilst the growing recognition of the need for gender-sensitive climate finance bilaterally and among constituted bodies was an encouraging sign, for many women and girls, this progress is too little too late. More support is needed urgently for the most vulnerable women and girls to empower them in the fight against climate change and the realisation of climate and gender justice.