In honor of the priority theme of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes, we would like to share some reflections on the centrality of gender equality to address climate justice and highlight concrete examples from women's rights organizations and diverse feminist and women's rights movements that have participated in our evidence building project on key achievements over the past decade.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how inequality deepens in unpredictable events and crisis scenarios. We must learn from this experience and be prepared for the effects that climate change has and will continue to have on people's lives. Climate change, increasing heat waves, extreme weather events, rising ocean levels, and increased migration is expected to lead to greater displacements, migration, conflicts, and greater humanitarian needs overall. We have already seen the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, and heatwaves around the globe and we have not yet even hit warming of 1.5 degrees. Disasters are destroying homes, affecting water and food supplies, compromising people's physical and mental safety and claiming lives.
The consequences of climate change, resulting the natural disasters and subsequent food insecurity and migration crises brought about will create deeper inequalities and will differentially affect women and marginalized populations, such as people living with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, refugees/migrants, etc., e.g., in natural disasters and crises women have higher mortality rates than men, higher levels of economic fragility, and experience increases in gender-based violence. This means integrating a human rights and gender lens and assessing the social impact of climate change is critical to adequate response. These issues are often under analyzed in sustainability and disaster mitigation and response efforts, in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria and assessment, from policy discussions like those at COP26, UN, in governments, corporates, and civil society.
This means we must take a critical look at whose voices are represented at the official UN CSW and COP delegations as well as other climate change policymaking spaces and whose voices are missing. The voices of indigenous communities, women’s and human rights defenders protecting the land and our people, youth, and communities that are directly affected by the consequences of climate change and their demands are too often underrepresented in official channels and policy processes, at the delegations and in the boardrooms. Yet they are closest to the problem and should be an integral part of developing more sustainable solutions. Climate change activists and human rights defenders that spend their lives dedicated to this work yield a unique expertise that should be leveraged.
Social movements are responsible for some of the greatest social justice advancements of our time, from racial justice, women’s suffrage, right to choose, LGBTQIA+ rights, etc. The reason is that these activists are committed for the long-term through a shared set of values and vision, which they leverage through mass mobilization and collective action.
We know the powerful youth movements that Greta Thunberg has catalyzed, igniting millions of youth to fight for climate justice around the world and walk out of classes to show their commitment and pressure governments and corporate leaders to take action. There is critical movement building and policy work being done by a multitude of groups, such as Mesoamerican Human Rights Defenders Network and Just Associates to protect human rights defenders, many of them led by indigenous people protecting the land from the loss of biodiversity in their communities. Around the world, statistics are stark in terms of violence against human rights defenders. In MesoAmerica alone last year, a study by Front Line Defenders revealed that at least 331 human rights and land defenders were killed globally; 26% of them are fighting for Indigenous Peoples rights.
Advocacy at government, corporate, and policy levels is indeed critical to protect our people, earth, and biodiversity. In addition, work infusing a gender lens into policy is an area of important work. For example, the Women’s Fund in Georgia (WFG) has brought in a gender equality lens into research, government advocacy, and daily lives through their work. WFG has built a 3-story building that serves as a safe space for feminists, green activists, and women’s groups to convene and organize, free of charge. This building is constructed using permaculture principles, making use of sustainable materials such as wood, straw bales, and clay. WFG also leads on advocacy work, raising awareness of how climate change affects women. They conducted a study and situation analysis on the effects of climate change on Georgian women, supported by Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM), Mama Cash, and BOTH Ends, which resulted in a collaboration with UNDP. WFG’s online podcast program on women and the environment has also led to working with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia to address climate and sustainability issues using a gender lens.
When looking at climate-related crises, and resulting humanitarian crises, global research shows that peace and stability are longer-lasting when women are at decision-making tables where peacebuilding and community cohesion after disasters are discussed. An example of work in this area is the initiative of Foundation United Women Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where the foundation convened women parliamentarians, government entities, and women civil society groups to develop joint priorities in improving position of women in BiH’s peacebuilding and reconciliation processes such as prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence, strengthening role and participation of women in public and political life, social rights and economic development for women. This has also been a platform for reconciliation among women from different political parties.
Another example is the Foundation Lara, also from BiH. They created and coordinated the Initiative Peace with Women, an informal network of 13 women groups. The movement is composed of about 200 women from women activists organizations, politicians, journalists, and the academe. The movement has institutionalized a commemoration day for women’s suffering, from all ethnic roots, during the BiH war and developed related activities to celebrate this day. A peace campaign dedicated to women who were defenders of human rights during the war was also created. The campaign was entitled “Peace with Women’s Face” which injected a women's rights perspective in peacebuilding and reconciliation in BiH. This campaign has been presented to nine cities to date. During the current war in Ukraine, we also see the power of local women's funds, such as the Ukrainian Women's Fund (UWF), whose work is critical in redistributing funding of grassroots-led women's and gender equality advocates. UWF has been working to support internally displaced communities since 2014, supporting women, peace, and security agenda and addressing local needs as they arise on the ground. As key supporters of diverse local women's organizations and movements in the country, they are well-positioned to support urgent security issues and facilitate peace processes and advocate for women's role in peacebuilding after the conflict.
On the ground, there is also a need for community development solutions to leave those most vulnerable to climate change, such as migrants, rural communities, or nomadic people in more sustainable places. Many civil society organizations and social enterprises are innovating in this area with aquaculture, vertical framing, sustainable fisheries, etc. For example, Rain for the Sahel and Sahara partnership with the rural communities and nomadic peoples in Niger have helped drill 24 wells and set up over 20 community gardens. The organization also helped in the installation of drip irrigation systems and two borehole wells with solar-powered submersible pumps. This enabled the provision of sustainable, clean, and drinkable water, and healthy foods to local communities. Community gardens also help women and community members earn income, supporting the economic development of the communities. Green Lane’s initiatives such as the “Economic Empowerment of Women’s Groups,” “Green Village” and “Green Training Center” have increased women’s knowledge and skills in sustainable agricultural techniques by training them on innovative sustainable farming practices. The organization’s initiatives have also helped women scale up their position in the value chain through organizing and consolidating the production lines of rural women’s produce. Not only did this project empower women; advocacy on the practice of sustainable farming among rural women’s groups also helped ease the contribution to climate change brought by the widespread practice of traditional/synthetic farming.
These are only a few examples of the power of applying a gender lens and engaging communities and indigenous people in building sustainable solutions. At ImpactMapper, we are continuing to document other gender and climate justice achievements over the next year and will be developing deeper analysis as new examples are shared. Stay tuned for follow-up blogs and articles and please reach out to us to share your achievements.
By: Alexandra Pittman
 The examples in this article come from ImpactMapper’s project to build a global database of stories about key wins and challenges of women’s movement-building organizations. We will be continuing to build our analysis of women, gender equality and climate justice work and encourage other organizations to share their achievements so we can add to this important line of work. You can learn more about the project here and fill out the survey here.
 The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement estimated that 10.3 million people were displaced in a six month period in 2021 due to climate related events, the most frequent cause was flooding. This was four times more than conflict related displacement during the same period. Source: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abd26c
 A 2019 study in Nature, estimates that 3% - 20% of armed conflict risk over the last century was due to climate disasters. It was predicted this would likely increase dramatically. and that the influence will likely increase dramatically. Source: https://news.stanford.edu/2019/06/12/climate-change-cause-armed-conflict/