From the Field: Discussing gender equality in sustainable development. Kate Wilkins


By Kate Wilkins

This year marked an historic event with the first ever Gender Day at the 18th session for the Conference of the Parties (a.k.a.COP18) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Doha, Qatar.  The day intended to promote gender equality in discussions of sustainable development. Members of the Global Women Scholars Network had the chance to attend events that focused on the evolving rhetoric in discussing women’s roles and challenges they face with regard to climate change impacts.

(from left to right) Cate Owren, Moderator, Executive Director Women’s Environment and Development Organization; Minister Alcinda Abreu, Ministry of Coordination of Environmental Affairs; Mary Robinson, President Mary Robison Foundation

(from left to right) Cate Owren, Moderator, Executive Director Women’s Environment and Development Organization; Minister Alcinda Abreu, Ministry of Coordination of Environmental Affairs; Mary Robinson, President Mary Robison Foundation

The term “gender” often carries the connotation of discussions focused on women, and the Gender Day appeared to support this assumption with panels solely comprised of women. One event, entitled Gender and Climate Innovation: Breakthrough Changes for Gender Equality, entailed a lively discussion of how women scholars should approach the role of gender in responding to climate change. During the discussion, an interesting dichotomy arose among the panelists. One group of panelists advocated the need to place women’s struggles and inequality at the forefront of discussions on gender and climate change, while others argued that continuing to highlight women’s unique struggles have become redundant and the focus should shift to solving the issues. The speakers who called for specifically focusing on women believe that men continue to dominate climate change discussion platforms, and either consciously or inadvertently ignore impacts to women. Other panelists cited that constantly pointing the finger at men will inherently alienate them from gender-related discussions, and create a stalemate in making progress through action.

Some panelists emphasized that men also play a critical role in strengthening community resilience and adaptation to climate change. However, both sides agreed that people should not discount the inordinate burden that women face when coping with climate change challenges, such as food and water security and lack of access to decision-making positions within their own communities (56th Commission on the Status of Women). Advocates for change did not refute women’s struggles, but rather called for an end to repetitive discussions in favor of increased action, as well as getting more men involved with gender-related climate change discussions. The world cannot solve environmental crises with half the population: we need everyone.

The United Nations itself may be at a crossroads on the path to global sustainable development. The UNFCCC proved to be another high profile yet lackluster event, where representatives from more than 200 nations convened to discuss and “make progress” toward a more sustainable planet. “As a scientist, I think that the path to solution is clear, but the UNFCCC conferences have made me realize that it can never be that simple due to economic, political will (or the lack thereof), as well as extreme social and cultural differences from the Party nations,” said conference attendee Diane Husic, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Moravian College, “what is needed is more grass roots pressure on the negotiators from scientists, students, families, doctors, and youth. Only when that form of pressure reaches the delegations (especially those that are serving as barriers in the process) can we start to make progress.”

I cannot begin to understand the depth and intricacies inherent in politics of these UN negotiations, which is partially attributed to the plethora of acronyms associated with the conference proceedings (which NPR tried to breakdown in one article that merely scratched the surface). I can only speak from the perspective of an observer, an outsider looking in. Many people continue to ponder the role of these conventions and why they appear to either produce so little change, or fail to effectively communicate their major contributions to becoming a more sustainable planet.

Photos by Kate Wilkins

UPDATE: Great infographic about women in developing countries and internet access. Thanks to for bringing this to our attention.

 Girls Online Infographic

One comment

  1. Pingback: Sustainability at NREL | EcoPress

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