Women4Climate summit gives women the mic in crisis unduly affecting them

New York City got hit by snowstorm Stella, but that didn’t stop the inaugural Women4Climate conference from going according to planned. The conference, headed by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, included women business leaders and women mayors from cities across the world, representing about 100 million citizens, and over $4 trillion dollars in GDP. The meeting highlighted “the key role women play in the development and championing of climate policies,” and the increased vulnerability that women face from climate change-related issues.

“As women, we know all too well that the powerful often seek to silence our voices when we speak out to protect the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “We are here today to show that we refuse to be silenced. All around the world, in city halls, corporate boardrooms, and on the streets of our cities women are demanding action to protect the planet from the threat of climate change.”

In the opening remarks of the conference, Amina J. Mohammed, the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General, explained that cities must lead the way in tackling climate change, as they are responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. And that any solutions that cities pursue “must have a strong gender equality element,” as their policies directly affect gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“To achieve this, women will need to be involved in decision-making and leadership,” Mohammed explained.

The United Nations has long highlighted that climate change is not only an environmental issue, but also a gender issue; because of women’s status across the world, both in the workforce and at home, they are more susceptible to the effects of climate change. For example, women are often responsible for work that will be more difficult in a climate change-filled world, like collecting drinking water; a 2010 U.N. Report found that “more than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lack easy access to sources of drinking water, and most of the burden of water collection falls on women.”

“Women move mountains every day… in deference of a world made for men by men.”

The Women4Climate conference was organized last December at the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City in an attempt to directly tackle such gender-related climate problems. It was a fitting place to launch the campaign, as Mexico’s capital continues to struggle with a water crisis, made worse by climate change, that has been especially hard on women in the region. In an interview with The New York Times, Mireya Imaz, a program director at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, explained that “water becomes the center of women’s lives in places where there is a serious problem… it becomes impossible for many poor women to work outside the home.”

Water collection is just one example. The 2010 U.N. report goes on to explain that “women are considered among the most vulnerable groups, as they tend to be more dependent on the natural resources threatened by climate change and have fewer assets to cope with the change.” At the conference, the Mayor of Durban, SA, Zandile Gumede, explained that “women are more likely to work in industries that will be affected by a changing climate, such as agriculture. That is why women need to help lead this fight, to ensure that the environment and the future generations are protected.”

Along similar lines, women are more likely to be hurt or killed during natural disasters, which will likely occur with increased regulatory in a climate changed world. This is both because women are more highly represented among the world’s poorest people and because women are more often charged with taking care of children and elderly, “which hampers their own rescue efforts in almost any type of natural disaster.

Moreover, because of the pervasive glass ceiling, women have been largely left out of the discussion on how to best tackle climate change. The U.N. webpage on gender and climate change explains that “women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labor markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making, and implementation.”

But in recent years this glass ceiling has begun to crack. Women diplomats were critical in drawing up the Paris Climate Change Agreement last December, including the plan’s key architect, Christiana Figueres, the then-Executive Secretary the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The result of increased gender equality in the climate change discussion is that, embedded in the Paris Agreement is a clause that directly calls for understanding climate change is a gender issue: “Parties should when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider… gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”.

In her closing remarks, Mayor Hidalgo said “women move mountains every day… in deference of a world made for men by men. I believe that women’s leadership will be critical to deliver the target of the Paris Agreement.”

You can watch a video of the entire conference here: