Today I was lucky enough to participate in the first Gender Day of the COP. Gender Day was established by the UNFCCC to encourage gender sensitivity in international climate policies and in the role of women as decision-makers at the COP. Almost every event I attended involved Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and my new role model. She is a charismatic woman who radiates kindness and humor and is determined to recognize the role and impacts of over 50% of the population (women) on the climate change issue. Gender responsiveness at the COP is not just a matter of equal rights and increasing female participation in the negotiations, but recognizing the unique role of women in climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to Figueres, women are "at the nexus of food, energy, and water". Throughout the day I attended various panel discussions, question & answer sessions, meetings, and speeches by powerful, intelligent women dedicated to establishing a standard of gender responsive decision-making at the COP.
|The president of COP18 addressing the panel of women about their role in achieving climate justice|
I attended the presentation of Thuto Ya Batho-- Teachings from Our People, a book inspired during last year's conference, COP17 in Durban, South Africa. It's a compilation of stories of women in developing countries adapting to the effects of climate change--for example, enabling food security despite desertification and extreme weather. The speakers included the president of COP18 and prime minister of Qatar H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, former President of Ireland "Momma" Mary Robinson, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, and president of COP17 Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. It was filled with energy and was a positive way to start the day because it provided hope and appreciation of the work that women are already doing to adjust to the changing climate, but still encouraged each of us to take responsibility for the planet. The launch of the Thuto Ya Batho Legacy Project was especially significant because the president of the Doha conference is the first male president of the COP in 3 years. The president of COP17, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, presented a copy of the book to him in order to symbolize continuing the recognition of the role of women in climate change adaptation strategies. It was satisfying, because it seemed to be a friendly way to hint to the president their expectations of "gender smart" change in policy-making this year in Doha. When the president of COP17 spoke, she got me thinking about the idea that women really shouldn't be viewed as victims of climate change, but as contributors to society in response to it. As Christiana Figueres added, "Women aren't waiting for changes. They aren't waiting for a paradigm shift on climate issues. Women just march in and do what needs to be done."
|"Momma" Mary Robinson speaking to the audience about developing a sense of urgency on climate issues|
Right now the COP is working on to create a policy that will hopefully be implemented by 2020. A few times during the day I heard "Momma" Mary Robinson make the point that many people think 2020 is already too late, and the way to develop the sense of urgency we need is to make climate issues people-centered, which includes women.
|Panel of women experts on climate and gender|
Later on I attended a set of high-level panel discussions of women leaders, gender experts, and climate change experts from around the world, including Alcinda Abreu, the Minister of Coordination of Environmental Affairs of Mozambique. This was my favorite of the gender sessions of today, because I felt an intense sense of community between the women in the panels and the audience. It might have also been due to the fact that they were given a chance to share personal stories and motivations behind their involvement in gender and climate change issues. When asked about her motivation behind her work, Figueres began to cry and said that she was working for her family and every woman seven generations in the future.
The last session was titled "Gender and Climate: Moving beyond the Rhetoric" and included speaking and a question-answer session with the audience by a panel of women including H.E. Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani of the royal family of Qatar. Photos were forbidden and there was high security in a ring around the audience, which was the highest level of security I have seen at any session so far. I sat next to two other members of the Al-Thani family, and they were constantly in communication with their guards, the press, and other officials. The women panel had a wonderful series of questions which they took very seriously. Figueres did prompt a few laughs though! Overall, they pushed the idea that we need to move past the theory of gender responsiveness and equality and start acting on it. Mary Robinson said that they will increase and look for gender balance in every subsequent decision of the UNFCCC, and that gender balance will ultimately be in climate change policy as a crosscutting issue on all areas of the UNFCCC.
It has been an absolutely wonderful day, and I hope women and gender activists reading this feel hopeful and empowered.