COP21: grassroots organizations spotlight women's voices at UN climate conference

Titi Akosa leads singing and dancing on Gender Day at COP21, highlighting the need for more women to be involved in negotiating the new climate change agreement. Photo credit: UN News Centre/Stephanie Coutrix

8 December 2015 – Dozens of non-governmental organizations rallying outside the United Nations climate change conference (COP21) in Paris today voiced the importance of bringing more women to the forefront of discussions, both in terms of who is negotiating the new climate agreement and what will be written within its pages.

“Women will not give up on the planet,” said Titi Akosa, a Nigerian lawyer and the Executive Director of the Centre for 21st Century Issues, who led much of the action at the rally and brought impressive energy, chanting “we're [going to] keep on moving forward, never turning back, never turning back.”

The second week of negotiations to reach a climate deal began yesterday; they are due to end within days, and are expected to produce a document guiding international policy on climate change to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius.

“We were very distressed two months ago when all gender related references that were there in the text were streamlined out,” Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Deputy Executive Director, told the UN News Service ahead of 'Gender Day,' marked Tuesday at COP21.

“And so we worked with all our champions, who are Member States and civil society, […] to make sure that not only were these references brought back in, but that [the text] was strengthened,” she continued.

Ms. Puri explained that the agreement currently being negotiated makes reference to gender equality, women's empowerment, as well as women's leadership and role in the preamble, while also referencing gender responsive adaptation, gender sensitive financing, and gender responsive capacity building in its body.

“Unfortunately, it wasn't there in the technology part, but we hope to see it inserted,” she pointed out.

Meanwhile, at the rally outside the conference halls, which include 32 negotiating rooms, “gender imbalance” was a term used by many who still don't believe their rights are being fully considered.

“This morning we have been with the women ministers from all over the world to tell them that we need them to stand strong in the negotiations on behalf of women, and talk to their delegations so that they will do what is just and right for women,” stressed Ms. Akosa.

Also speaking to the crowd with a loud, persuasive voice was Lean Deleon, an American with ties to the Philippines who identifies as a gender-nonconforming person. Zie [gender-neutral pronoun] was there representing the Women's Major Group, which works to promote sustainable development and gender equality.

“We want to say that with the current crisis of climate, women and the marginalized are mostly being affected,” Lean Deleon explained. “They do not have access to the table to make these decisions, so we want to make sure that we amplify the voices coming from the grassroots communities.”

According to UN Women, climate change affects women and girls in particular, as many spend a disproportionate amount of time searching for food, fuel and water, or struggling to grow crops. This close relationship with their surroundings also signifies that women need to be part of the solution.

“The women we work with around the world – the first thing they'll say to us is you know what, we're not victims, we're the solutions, and they're really right, because 60 to 80 per cent of all household food production in developing countries is done by women,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, the co-founder and Executive Director of WECAN – the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network.

“UN studies show that if you have all these different water programmes in developing countries, if you don't involve women in the decision making around it, the programmes don't work because the local water knowledge is held by women and also they're the ones collecting the water,” she further stressed.

Just days away from discovering what elements will figure into the new climate change agreement in Paris, those fighting for gender equality are continuing to raise their voices for more seats at the decision-making table, while the UN also pursues its work to empower women and girls as key leaders and agents of change.

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