Cut glaring gender gap at global climate talks

An oversight by Azerbaijan, the designated host of the 29th session of the Conference of Parties (COP29) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has not only caused an uproar but also highlighted increasing efforts to reduce women’s participation in such talks.

The country shamelessly set up a 28-all-male committee to strategise for the event to be held in November. The list was revised following complaints, and now the 42-member team comprises 12 women and 30 men.

Still women representation in the crucial committee is below 30 per cent. Whether this was by design, oversight, or ignorance, it would be interesting to know the overall attendance of women when COP29 finally happens. A look at the 2023’s COP28 held in Dubai, shows a paltry 34 per cent women representation, according to WEDO, a global advocacy organisation that highlights gender and other climate change aspects.

Back home, that women are disproportionately affected by impacts of climate change is becoming a cliché. The most commonly reported effects of floods and prolonged drought are displacement, women walking long distances to get potable water, crop failure, and deaths of livestock, which snatches their sources of livelihood. Women are forced to head families as their husbands relocate to far-flung areas in search of greener pastures and prevent further livestock deaths. A recent interview I had with Ipas, which focuses on women’s reproductive health rights, highlighted women’s reluctance to continue their family planning methods, mostly as a result of unfamiliarity with new environments after they are displaced. It is worse for patients.

Even as the world marked its first International Day of Clean Energy on January 26, it was obvious that women bore the bigger brunt of energy poverty.

Often when unclean energy suffices, women’s health is most at risk, as they are more likely to inhale smoke during cooking, exposing them to respiratory diseases. Countries such as Azerbaijan must be intentional about allowing and empowering women to attend and actively participate in the negotiations at the global climate talks. Apart from being the main victims of climate change, they have a lot more to offer in terms of solutions to the crisis. These will benefit the world only if their voices are amplified in discussions on adaptation and resilience.

Even though representation on delegations is not synonymous with meaningful participation, where women are involved in decision-making processes related to climate action, policies are more likely to be inclusive and effective. Countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to ratify better environmental treaties and adopt eco-friendly practices.

Statistics are equally clear on under-representation of this gender in key climate negotiations globally. The UNFCCC says women only constitute 38 per cent of national delegations in climate talks, leaving out tens of thousands of diverse ideas.

The more the voices, the more the solutions to the crisis that has plagued the Global South in ways that, due to inadequate technology and infrastructure, have caused preventable deaths and destruction. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), acknowledges the importance of women’s involvement in implementing effective climate policies. The global climate dialogue must therefore not miss out on the rich perspectives of women, which obviously offer some solutions.

Meanwhile, women who make it to various thematic areas must grab every opportunity to state their opinions on crucial climate change issues. As the world grapples with the urgent need for climate action, it is imperative to address the persistent gender gap in decision-making spaces, dismantle barriers and ensure women and marginalised communities’ voices are heard and valued in the fight against climate change.

-The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]