Women need to be leaders in addressing climate change challenges, say leaders in Asia and the Pacific​

This was the clear message from the officials, civil society representatives and other practitioners gathered for the Asia-Pacific regional consultation ahead of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), which took place virtually on 9-10 February 2022. The consultations focused on the CSW 66 Priority Theme: “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.”

The Asia-Pacific region is particularly prone to disasters which “have compounded the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, further increasing poverty, magnifying inequalities, and worsening the vulnerability of women and girls, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups,” said Sarah Knibbs, Officer-in-Charge, UN Women Asia and the Pacific, in her opening remarks.

Women bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of disasters, including increased violence and greater household care responsibilities, Knibbs stated. At the same time, they have less access to resources that might improve their resilience, such as control over land and other productive assets, or to health services and social protection.

And despite women’s leading role in managing natural resources, “women’s situational knowledge continues to be underutilized in environmental policies and disaster risk reduction efforts and strategies,” she said. “Further, women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making about the environment.”

Another challenge was the lack of data on the connections between gender equality and climate change, Knibbs said. As such, key concerns regarding this nexus “continue to be overlooked by policy makers and other stakeholders.”

The issue of data was brought up by speakers at these consultations. “Ultimately, if there is no data and evidence, the problem doesn’t exist,” said Subhalakshmi Nandi, Senior Programme Officer, Gender Equality with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pointing to the importance of data in gaining political traction, and to enable quantitative planning and resource allocation.

But if comprehensive gender-specific data are lacking, there is enough information to be certain that women and girls bear the brunt of the impact from climate change, environmental degradation, and related disasters.

“We know that 95 per cent of deaths in the Solomon Islands 2014 floods were women, and 55 per cent of deaths in the 2015 earthquake in Nepal were women,” said Hope Peisley, Assistant-Secretary with the Women’s Safety and International Engagement Branch, Office for Women, Department of the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet.

But the same pandemic could provide an opportunity. “The pandemic has reminded us how fragile and vulnerable we are as a planet,” said Nandi. “We have the opportunity to kind of press the reset button.”

The consultations yielded a number of key recommendations, which as a whole emphasized women’s voice and agency in the design of any policies and actions around climate change, the environment and DRR. Women in all their diversity have a key role to play in the design and implementation of any such programmes. For more on these recommendations, please access the full report here.