LDC women in world climate talks: building a cohort of champions

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2 May 2017

The Least Developed Countries Group will be at the table when next week's UN climate conference plans how to step up its 'gender agenda'.

The 2016 Bonn Climate Change Conference featured a workshop and numerous informal consultations on gender-responsive climate policy (Photo by IISD/ENB/Kiara Worth)

The upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn will include a workshop on 10-11 May to develop elements of a 'Gender Action Plan' that parties have agreed should be drawn up (this was decided at a meeting in Marrakech, last November). Priority areas for action, timelines for implementation, and indicators to monitor progress are among the topics to be discussed.

The Least Developed Countries Group, which IIED works closely with, will engage fully in these discussions, reflecting the importance the group places on gender equality. Among their negotiators is a cohort of women making their voices heard on climate change.

Equality should not be blind

The UNFCCC started off as an infamously 'gender-blind' multilateral agreement. But climate change affects women and men in distinct ways, depending on their roles, responsibilities, access to resources, services and opportunities.

So to ensure equality, climate policy and action must take off the blindfold and address women's and men's different needs and priorities. That means that women and men must be equally involved in decision making on climate change – at all levels. 

Walking the talk: the LDC Group's leading women (and supportive men)

The UNFCCC and its parties have made steady progress in recent years to put gender firmly on the climate agenda. LDC negotiators are no exception. The group has consistently encouraged its members to have more gender-balanced delegations, and has supported women delegates' full and meaningful engagement in decision making. Against this backdrop, women are now joining the strongest LDC voices in the negotiations:

Stella Gama, from Malawi, is the group's longstanding gender champion. Not only is she instrumental in speaking for LDCs in negotiations on gender, she is also an active member of the LDC team focusing on technology development and transfer. Her drive and expertise led her to be appointed the LDC representative to the Technology Executive Committee under the UNFCCC.    

Uganda's Edith Kateme Kassajja is the LDC expert on the Standing Committee on Finance. Edith is joined in the LDC finance team by Isatou Camara, from the Gambia, who started attending the negotiation sessions in 2014 and has been helping to raise LDC priorities in discussions ever since. 

Fatou Diabete, from Angola, holds a European Capacity Building Initiative (ECBI) bursary and is a force to be reckoned with. IIED, which manages the bursary scheme, has been supporting Fatou's participation at the negotiations since 2016. She is already well on her way to becoming an expert on climate change mitigation.  

Men who promote women's leadership within the LDC Group also deserve recognition. Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was LDC Group chair during 2016. He nominated women for the individual seats reserved for the LDCs at UNFCCC bodies. These nominations — for the Adaptation Committee, the Standing Committee on Finance, and the Technology Executive Committee – were confirmed at UNFCCC summit in Marrakech.

The current chair, Gebru Jember Endalew (from Ethiopia), remains committed to the cause. In his role as chair he will co-host a Climate Justice Dialogue at the Bonn meeting entitled 'Listening and learning: grassroots women's local and traditional knowledge informing gender responsive climate action' (9 May).

The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, the UNFCCC secretariat and Canada are the other hosts. The dialogue will be between climate change negotiators and grassroots women, and will inform the discussions on the Gender Action Plan.

Still at the first step stage

Yet despite these efforts, women's representation from LDCs is still markedly limited. And when UNFCCC funding for LDC delegates is particularly scarce, women become noticeably absent.

But, as the old saying goes, every journey starts with a single step. And the LDC Group is certainly stepping out. All actions that push the 'gender agenda' at the UNFCCC – whether through the Gender Action Plan or in smaller ways – make a difference. 

It's crucial that parties, as well as people and organisations working with them, make a conscious effort to support women's increased participation and leadership. Awareness raising for all, and targeted funding and capacity strengthening support for women in particular, are essential. 

Our supporting role

IIED is proud to be among those promoting LDC women's engagement at the negotiation sessions as part of our logistical and technical support and capacity building workshops and toolkits

Of course, increasing women's leadership and participation in the global decision making process is only one aspect of the work needed to achieve gender-responsive climate policy. As the LDCs advocate, the new Gender Action Plan will have to ensure that current and future decisions integrate gender into all aspects of the climate change response – including adaptation, mitigation, avoiding loss and damage, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.

Both IIED and the group recognise the need to keep up efforts to bring in and develop more women experts on climate change.

Janna Tenzing (janna.tenzing@iied.org) is a researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group.

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