In 2001, at COP7 in Marrakesh, the first decision relating to the relationship between gender and climate change was made, focusing on participation and the representation of women at such conferences. In 2017, at COP23 in Bonn, the first Gender Action Plan has been announced, highlighting the multifaceted role of women in climate action. Whilst it has taken sixteen years to progress this far, slowly but surely the world of climate policy-making is starting to realise the usefulness of viewing climate change through a gendered ‘lens’.

By this, I mean not accepting the common misconception that gender=women, but instead examining how gender differences are thought of, experienced, and potentially harnessed in productive ways in order to better focus policy-making across all aspects of climate governance.

Whilst gender has been well-integrated into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) adaptation policy for some time, it is least considered in mitigation policy where it is commonly misunderstood in terms of vulnerability, rather than empowerment. The COP23 Gender Action Plan seeks to raise awareness of and support for the effective implementation of gender-responsive policy at all government levels: regional, national and local. Implementation has been difficult in the UNFCCC due to a lack of resources at all levels, and consequently a lack of technical support for countries to integrate gender into their work. The Gender Action Plan will therefore build on existing framework such as the Women Delegates Fund to improve the implementation of UNFCCC gender guidelines.

The Women Delegates Fund provides travel resources for female delegates and is aimed at building leadership skills through knowledge and capacity building on technical issues related to the UNFCCC negotiations. According to statistics from the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), since 2008, female delegates made up on average 30-36% of party delegations, peaking in 2014 and falling in 2016 back to 32%. The Gender Action Plan again draws attention to such problems, working to ensure that the voices of those traditionally most marginalised and vulnerable to climate change are heard, empowering them to become actors of change.

Understanding the role of gender in defining different societal roles across both the developing and developed worlds, in the home, the workplace, the state, can help to target policy and utilise unique knowledges held by different sectors of society; people of all ages, ethnicities and genders. Whilst it has been acknowledged by WEDO that at the current pace of progress, gender balance under the UNFCCC will not be achieved until 2040, the Gender Action Plan marks a significant step forward in recognising the critical role of women in climate action and encouraging their participation in all UNFCCC processes.

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