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COP27 gender disparity: "Have more women present in negotiations"

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Women in vulnerable communities are more sensitive to the climate crisis but are starkly underrepresented at COP27. Gender activists are rallying for more women's participation in climate talks

Kate Okorie, bird story agency

Women in vulnerable communities bear the brunt of the climate crisis; without concerted intervention and support, the situation will only worsen.

That's why it's especially galling that the number of women attending the United Nations high-level meeting on climate change, the Conference of the Parties, is declining. Carbon Brief figures suggest that 63% of the estimated 35,000 delegates are men; the other 37% are women.

It's a situation that worries and angers activists.

"Women are the most disproportionately impacted by climate change, but it is really sad to see that every year, the participation of women in negotiations remains very low," says Fatou Jeng, Policy Operations lead for Women and Gender in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Youth Constituency (YOUNGO) and the founder of Clean Earth Gambia.

Since 2017, Jeng has been instrumental in drafting gender and climate change policies. She is convinced that addressing the issue of gender inequality will pave the way to efficiently tackle the climate crisis.

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative's worldwide vulnerability ranking found that nine of the ten countries most threatened by climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa. Already strained agricultural, water, health and food systems are under ever more pressure.

Chido Mpemba, the African Union's Special Envoy on Youth, said in an interview with UN Women: "Climate change mostly affects those who depend mainly on natural resources and whose livelihoods are climate-sensitive, many of which are marginalised communities, including women in agriculture."

There is ample evidence that African women and girls can play a key role in leading climate action within their communities when given the necessary tools and education.

COP27 gender disparity: "Have more women present in negotiations"

Xoli Fuyani, the founder of Black Girls Rising in South Africa, said: "We need inclusive and meaningful engagement and mentorship of women, especially from a young age."

Fuyani's work centres on gender justice, empowerment of women and education. She says her work capacitates and gives resources to "women and girls at the grassroots". Education is critical – a review by Project Drawdown ranked the education of women and girls sixth of 100 sustainable climate solutions.

One of Fuyani's students is twelve-year-old Yola Mgogwana, a notable advocate for environmental justice in South Africa, who engages the government in climate discussions and supports protests against the country's coal expansion projects.

"Although Yola came from an impoverished area, she did not let her circumstance keep her in the background," Fuyani said.

Her organisation provides scholarships to girls like Yola to attend good schools where they can master the English language, build their public speaking ability and learn how to read policies.

Hamira Kobusingye, a Ugandan climate justice activist with the Rise Up Movement, says the effects of empowering women at the grassroots were visible in communities where it happened. "In our communities, we have seen the outcome of empowering women at the grassroots; it is only fair that the men who largely occupy these leadership positions should open the door for more female participation," she argued.

Elsewhere on the continent, Jeng's Clean Earth Gambia recently launched a five-month climate leadership programme in The Gambia to train 25 young women to understand the UNFCCC process and build the skills needed to communicate climate-related issues.

This is part of her plans to ensure more female voices speaking for women at the highest level: "We cannot come to the decision-making and have men speak about women's challenges. It is important to have more women present in this negotiation process."

Meanwhile, the call for greater gender parity at future COPs is growing louder. Priscilla Achakpa, the president of the Women Environmental Programme, says that countries must "accredit more women and make provisions for funding". Her organisation funded 23 African women from various communities to attend COP27.

"It is important for these women to come here and share their stories themselves," she explained.

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