International Women’s Day is an apt occasion to emphasise that equal representation and participation of women at decision-making tables at all levels should be a top priority to serve the true purpose of the 2030 Agenda in the fight against climate change
The month of March being celebrated as Women’s History Month is not just a calendar ritual. It reminds us of a past when women fought for everything that has been achieved, bringing us to this point in time where we are. It should also act as a wake-up call reminding us of the urgency in recognising the importance of women’s role in building a sustainable world for future generations. Without making strides in reducing inequalities based on gender, a sustainable future will remain a distant dream.
So, why must women be empowered to work as educators and leaders in climate action? They take on the roles of caring and nurturing across communities globally and yet their place at the table, when it comes to taking care of our planet, is insignificant currently. Making up 51 per cent of the planet’s population, women in all societies respond effectively in times of crisis and work actively towards creation of a more just world.
Women, among other marginalised communities, are also the most affected by climate change. Unless they are involved in the design and implementation of climate response actions through local community advisory boards and beyond, policies and regulations will never be as efficient and effective as they should be.
We should also acknowledge the edge that women bring to the table. Women possess innate knowledge and develop experience, particularly at the local level and around their community backyards, making them rich sources of climate awareness. Globally, there must be a move towards recognising the wealth of knowledge that indigenous women have about their environment.
The achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Goal 13 (Climate Action) and Goal 15 (Life On Land), lies in the hands of the locals. For example, we know that forests prosper when indigenous land rights are respected since they will ensure less deforestation. These forests and ocean backyards are habitats of tribal and local populations who know how much they contribute towards mitigating climate change. Equal opportunities must be given to these indigenous communities, particularly their women, to bring this traditional knowledge to the forefront. The key here is to bridge the gap between scientific data and traditional knowledge. There is an urgent need to do that by putting coastal communities, tribal communities, farmers and other indigenous people in the driving seat of climate disaster management.
Besides, we also need women to motivate men and encourage them to work together towards the fight against climate disasters. This is a fight where we need all hands on deck and working in isolation is not an option – neither for men, nor for women.
Leadership by women – and not just participation – is absolutely crucial to limit global warming under the 1.5°C mark. There should be global government policies to educate and empower women systemically for climate action. Sporadic efforts spread out in remote corners of the globe are not enough. We need more collective action. For example, climate organisations across the globe can conduct training and issue certifications for women candidates on a much bigger scale.
Another potential action point is making climate education and ocean literacy compulsory in schools to ignite an interest in the cause among the younger generations. This will help boys and girls understand the gravitas of the work that needs to be done, and will provide them equal opportunity to explore.
Finally, and most importantly, funding should be substantially increased for women-led organisations that are fighting the battle for cleaner ocean, air and land. For instance, our women farmers are not even aware of their rights to land, let alone have access to information about scientifically enhancing their crop production, or getting government funding. Widespread campaigns regarding available funds should be carried out across all strata of society. Female students should also get scholarships to develop job skills in spatial ocean science, mapping, digital technologies for climate solutions, renewable energy and oceanography.
A national campaign towards highlighting the rights of women as well as enhancing their capacity in climate action is needed in India When it is only our cities with their fast-paced infrastructure development that are highlighted in India’s sustainability narrative, it is at the cost of a huge opportunity in our villages, which can involve women. To serve the true purpose of the 2030 Agenda in the fight against climate change, equal representation and participation of women at decision-making tables at all levels should be a top priority.
(Elsie Gabriel is the founder of Young Environmentalists Programme Trust and is currently part of Women Climate Collective.)