Powering change: IUCN celebrates International Women’s Day

08 March 2010 | News story

To mark 2010 International Women’s Day, IUCN is honouring leaders who are at the forefront of women’s empowerment in tackling climate change.

Climate change hinders sustainable development and is having an impact on all sectors of society including the environment, the economy, human health, disaster management and food security. The issue of gender and climate change is important because women and men are affected by climate change in different ways. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because the majority of them are poor and have limited access to or control over resources such as land, credit, information, technology, and decision making. At the same time, women are powerful agents of climate change solutions as community leaders, holders of traditional knowledge, food production managers, care givers and educators.

In line with the International Women’s Day theme for 2010: Equal Opportunities, Equal Rights: Progress for All, IUCN believes that the world cannot afford to miss the opportunity of including women and gender considerations in the climate change debate. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are prerequisites for sustainable climate change policies and progress for all. Including gender dimensions in the international climate change treaty which it is hoped will be announced later this year, would be ground-breaking.

Today, IUCN is taking time to reflect on how far women have come in their struggle for gender equality, development and their participation in climate change discussions. Following are profiles of the women IUCN recognizes for their leadership in policy making, advocacy and the development of gender-responsive climate change measures. These women have been influential at both international and national levels.

For more information contact Lorena Aguila, IUCN’s Senior Adviser on Gender, e. lorena.aguilar@iucn.org

Aira Kalela from Finland is the Special Representative on Climate and Gender in Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Prior to this, Aira Kalela held senior positions in the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland and was the former Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Aira Kalela is an expert in international negotiations, frequent speaker, and author of publications on gender and climate change issues.

Aira has been influential in gaining global political commitment to gender and climate change issues and empowering women in climate change negotiations. With Aira Kalela’s leadership, Finland and other Nordic countries voiced their support for gender and climate change issues in official statements and submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), international high level meetings, and calls to action.

Thanks to her work, Finland contributed 500 000 Euros in 2009 to the participation and capacity building of women delegates from developing countries in the climate change negotiations process. Recognizing the positive role women play in addressing the challenges of climate change, Finland boosted gender equality in UNFCCC negotiations, where currently only one-third of government delegates are women. For a gender-sensitive climate change regime, it is crucial that women are empowered and that they contribute and participate effectively at all levels of decision making.

Aira Kalela led the gender and climate change theme in the high level Liberia Colloquium (2009) co-convened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Tarja Halonen of Finland. The Colloquium adopted a Call for Action on Climate Change and Gender, calling on governments, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders for greater participation of women in climate change decision making, capacity building, and financing.

Contact Aira Kalela, aira.kalela@formin.fi ; t. 358-40-5061175

Rebecca Pearl of the United States
is the Coordinator of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA), an initiative led by IUCN, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Rebecca began her career as community development worker in Nicaragua, then worked with UNIFEM-Andean Region to launch gender budget initiatives in Latin America, and was the Sustainable Development Program Coordinator at WEDO.

Rebecca was instrumental in launching the GGCA at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007. The GGCA works to ensure that climate change policies, decision-making, and initiatives at the global, regional, and national levels are gender responsive. Rebecca Pearl was central in expanding the GGCA to include 25 institutions among United Nations and civil society organizations, and numerous allies among governments, donors, and the private sector. Under Rebecca leadership, GGCA has been recognized as a unique and effective partnership bringing a human face to climate change decision-making and initiatives.

The GGCA has achieved many successes working towards four complementary objectives that include ensuring that financing mechanisms on mitigation and adaptation address the needs of poor women and men equitably.

Contact Rebecca Pearl, e. info@gender-climate.org ; t. 1-917-755-7111

H.E. Dr. Dessima Williams of Grenada is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Grenada to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition representing the interests of low lying small island states in global negotiations on climate change. Ambassador Williams is an expert on sustainable development and gender and has extensive academic experience, as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at Brandeis University and as an author of a report on Gender Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Grenada and co-author of a UK Department for International Development report: Realization of Human Rights in the Caribbean Territories. She serves on the board of the Inter-Agency Group of Development Organizations in Grenada, and the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., among others.

Ambassador Williams is an influential leader, supporter, and frequent keynote speaker on gender dimensions of climate change. She emphasizes that climate change is not only an environmental problem, but also a human problem; caused by people and affecting people. Ambassador Williams called for the most vulnerable states, members of AOSIS, to take up the issues of most vulnerable people. Ambassador Williams demonstrated that gender equality can offer protection to societies in climate change-induced disaster. Ensuring that gender equality strategies are established before disasters strike and that they are part of disaster risk mitigation, are the most important ways to maximize this protection. The experiences of men and women in Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grenada in 2004, highlight different levels of vulnerability among genders during and after disasters. Out of 79% of homes damaged overall, 95% were the homes of poor women and children.

Contact: Permanent Representative of Grenada to the United Nations, e-mail grenada@un.int  t. 1-212-599-0301

Cate Owren from the United States
is the Programme Director at Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). Cate is a life-long activist on women’s rights and environmental issues and has experience in West Africa and the Caribbean, where she worked on reproductive health and AIDS education, microfinance, and the global movement towards ‘ethically’ mined gold and Fair Trade. Cate is a leader in advocacy and research activities on gender and climate change.

Cate has been crucial in leading WEDO and the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) advocacy efforts in integrating a gender perspective into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She was key in mobilizing a diverse group of advocates from different countries involving WEDO’s global network of women’s civil society organizations and GGCA partners. Although, there is still no global policy specifically on gender and climate change, much progress was made in 2009: the advocacy team worked with government delegates and served as technical gender and climate change advisers. The outcome draft document of the UNFCCC Copenhagen negotiations has five references to gender and women under adaptation, capacity-building, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and mitigation.

Cate Owren was one of the drivers in the process of establishing the Gender and Women Constituency, which was given provisional status under the UNFCCC in 2009. The Constituency is an important step for advocacy efforts as it grants women and gender equality observer organizations a formal opportunity to work together to influence the negotiations.

Striving to fill the research gap on climate change impacts on women, Cate Owren reviewed and edited numerous case studies and publications on gender and climate change, and co-authored Climate Change Connections: Gender, Population and Climate Change Resource Kit, published by WEDO and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA).

Contact Cate Owren, e. cate@wedo.org t. 1-212-973-0325

Sandra Freitas of Togo is the Director of Actions en Faveur de l'Homme et de la Nature (AFHON), an NGO working on climate change adaptation issues with poor and vulnerable groups in Togo. Sandra has been influential in raising awareness on gender and climate change in her local community using cultural communication tools. Sandra Freitas is a specialist on sustainable development and environmental issues and a government representative of Togo to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.

Sandra was one of the experts trained by IUCN, as part of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) capacity building efforts. She led the French section of the African Regional Training of Trainers and Orientation for Government Delegates in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October, 2009. The training based on GGCA techniques provided tools and methodologies to mainstream gender equality in climate change initiatives at the national, regional and international levels.

Sandra Freitas is instrumental in mobilizing the Francophone countries’ awareness and attention to gender dimensions of climate change. She translates publications on gender and climate change to French and is a frequent speaker and trainer on environmental international legal mechanisms and gender and climate change issues.

Sandra’s advocacy efforts led to stellar support and increasing political commitment from African countries to gender-responsive climate change policies. With her leadership, African countries voiced their support for gender and climate change issues in official statements and submissions to the UNFCCC, international high level meetings, and calls to action. Women in Africa, because of their responsibility for food and water administration, are especially vulnerable to the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation, with regard to food security, agriculture, water resource management, energy, forest use and management, and transportation.

Contact Sandra Freitas, e. cendrillon@yahoo.fr t. 228-225-6538

Jeannette Gurung of the United States is founder and director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN).  This is a global network of women and men professionals and farmers in 83 countries who are committed to increasing rural women's access to, and control over resources to manage agriculture and natural resources and enhance their livelihoods. Jeannette is a forester and gender and development expert whose career has focused on leading organizational change for gender equality within agriculture and natural resource management organizations in Asia and Africa. She has expertise in capacity building, action research, gender analysis, organizational analysis, policy advocacy and network building, and has published numerous articles and books. Jeannette is active in international advocacy within the UN Forum on Forests, the Commission for Sustainable Development, and the Network of Women Agriculture Ministers and Leaders.

Jeannette Gurung has been influential in her extensive work, research, policy development, and advocacy on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and gender. REDD offers potential for positive outcomes for forest-dependent communities, but also risks serious negative impacts, especially for women who rely on forest resources to sustain their families' livelihoods. Current discussions on REDD are very weak with respect to the gender dimensions and to its impacts on rural women who have few or no options to use the forest for sources of fuelwood, livestock feed, medicines, and even food in times of scarcity. It is crucial that this gap be addressed so that the policies, financing mechanisms and consultative processes take full account of the differentiated rights, role and responsibilities of women and men, promote gender equality and equity in REDD policy and practice, and reward women who protect and manage forest resources. Women must be recognized as legitimate and key stakeholders who participate in and benefit equally from all REDD related processes.

Contact Jeannette Gurung, e. Jeannettegurung@wocan.org ; tel: 1-202-331-9099

Itzá Castañeda from Mexico is the Senior Gender Adviser at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Mexico Country Office, a Focal Point of the United Nations system gender inter-agency group for development in Mexico, and a member of Mexico’s Network on Gender and Environment. She is an expert on development cooperation, gender and environment, and gender and climate change. Prior to her current position, Itzá was Director of Gender Equity and Environment of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Mexico and the Federal Liaison with the National Institute of Women (Inmujeres) and the National Population Council (CONAPO).

Itzá Castañeda is co-author of six books and has coordinated several publications on gender, environment, disasters, climate change and human development. She has been a trainer, consultant, and director of various projects on gender and development, gender equality and non-violence against women and legislative harmonization. She has participated in numerous national and international forums on the topic of gender equality.

Itzá Castañeda is at the forefront of gender and climate change research. She developed the first Gender Resource Guide on Climate Change in 2008 and reviewed the Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change in 2009. The manual, published by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) in partnership with IUCN and UNDP, compiles and shares practical tools, information, and methodologies to facilitate the integration of gender into policy and programming on Bali Action Plan building blocks of climate change mitigation, adaptation, technology, and finance.

On the road to achieving a legally-binding treaty on climate change in Mexico in December 2010, the leadership of the host country, the government of Mexico will be critical in ensuring that for the first time, gender language will be included in international climate change policy.

Contact Itzá Castañeda, e. itza.castaneda@undp.org.mx