Farhana Yamin: Why so few women on the stage at COP26?

'We know that more inclusive and participatory decision-making improves the quality of decision-making'

Friday, 19th November 2021

Farhana Yamin

Farhana Yamin

I HAVE just come back from the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow known as COP26.

The climate crisis affects everyone in the world yet decisions about what to do are mainly made by men.

Most of the leaders who came to Glasgow were men, as are most of the negotiators who represent their countries, especially at the senior levels.

A year ago, a group of 100 women, including me, wrote to the UK Presidency team which at the time was entirely male.

This was hugely disappointing because back in 2001, at COP7, I championed the first ever decision on gender parity.

We have made huge strides since then ­– about 50 gender related decisions have been adopted by the COP since then and the 2015 Paris Agreement is very clear.

It says that when parties take action to address climate change, they should respect, promote, and consider gender equality and the empowerment of women.

But we are still far off from the 50:50 target. Why does equal representation matter and why is it is proving so difficult to achieve in practise?

Gender equality is a key part of climate justice which also includes racial and economic justice.

Women are entitled to make decisions that affect them and the world just as much as men.

There is plenty of evidence showing that a lack of diversity, including gender balance, in key political decisions on climate is also more likely to prevent effective action to tackle the climate emergency.

We know that more inclusive and participatory decision-making improves the quality of decision-making, because it reflects and incorporates a wider range of perspectives and expertise and deeper and wider engagement by all sections of the public brings about longer lasting change.

In terms of the climate crisis, women’s vulnerability to climate change is a longstanding concern in the international negotiations.

Due to historic and systemic biases and discrimination, women still do a disproportionate share of caring for children and relatives.

Poor air quality from cars and pollution is more likely to cause respiratory problems such as asthma which will impact children and the elderly which in turn poses an additional barrier for gender equality.

In countries like the UK, women tend to be concerned about different aspects of climate change from men, and to be more in support of policies and lifestyle changes to tackle climate change than men.

Whether it is food, fashion, the flights we take and the fuel that runs our heating and cars, all of us need to question, challenge, and change our lifestyles if we are going to really reduce the UK’s emissions.

Leaving out 50 per cent of the population doesn’t help us take steps to the deeper political and systemic changes needed to get a climate just world where everyone is safe, and everyone gets a say in creating solutions.

• Farhana Yamin is a lawyer and adviser to Climate Vulnerable Forum

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