Introduction

“The effects of gender imbalance amongst decision-makers go beyond headline statistics. The lack of power and influence wielded by women in public and political life is undermining progress towards a world where poverty is eradicated and men and women are able to build sustainable and secure futures for themselves and their families.”

- VSO (2015) Women in Power: beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world

Throughout the past several years of the international climate change negotiations, alongside the establishment of a new sustainable development agenda, governments across the world have established and agreed that promoting gender equality and protecting women’s human rights are necessary to effective action on climate change toward peaceful and sustainable societies.

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where negotiations determine global climate policy, women accounted for approximately 38% of all national Party delegates and 25% of the Heads of Delegations in 2021, with stronger representation at the virtual session in June than the Conference of the Parties. Research shows that gender imbalances differ across countries and regions. Women’s participation in Eastern and Western Europe, for example, is often above 45%, while it is often at or below 35% in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. These differences can also be seen when looking at participation by UNFCCC negotiating blocks, with countries from the African Group, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and OPEC having less representation of women on national delegations. See WEDO's latest brief on women's participation in the negotiations for more info.

As the climate negotiations work to implement the Paris Agreement, there is an opportunity to ensure that climate policies and actions are responsive to gender power structures and social constructs, that they recognize and respond to the needs, perspectives, and rights of women and men, and that they enhance and protect women’s human rights. This includes the right for women and men to fully and effectively participate in climate change decision-making at all levels.

Creating Change

The UNFCCC has worked to strengthen women’s leadership in the climate negotiations, but progress remains inconsistent. 

COP18’s Decision 23/CP.18, on promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations, highlighted countries’ recognition of the importance of equitable participation. However, as many governments and CSOs noted in their follow-up submissions on how to achieve the goals of this decision, words on paper will not be enough to truly transform participation levels, particularly as gender imbalance in decision-making is a reflection of larger structural gender equality issues at international, national, and local levels. 

For policies like Decision 23/CP.18 and subsequent other decisions like the Lima Work Programme on Gender, and for participation to be more equal, words on paper must be operationalized through investment in training, capacity building, financial support, and innovative methodologies and processes to create not just a simple balance in numbers, but transformation in who has access and influence in global decision-making spaces.

At COP22 in 2016, the gender and climate change decision (Decision 21/CP.22), invited Parties to “continue to assist” in two gender-balance related activities: training and awareness-raising on gender balance, and capacity building for women delegates to better prepare them for the negotiations. This language presaged the approach taken in the Gender Action Plan (GAP), which this decision also prompted should be developed, but such an approach was limited in its understanding of structural imbalance—where knowledge of imbalance will not necessarily prompt meaningful changes in approaches to delegation composition nor resources to facilitate progress.

The following year, COP23's Decision 3/CP.23 established the GAP, often hailed as a key milestone in the UNFCCC process in showing commitment to a roadmap of gender-related activities. It noted the lack of progress that had been made in delegations toward the goal of gender balance and prompted for the inclusion of gender within climate policy using five priority areas, including capacity building, pursuing meaningful participation, especially among indigenous and grassroots communities and effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms. However, the plan itself lacks clear targets and indicators to adequately evaluate progress. 

In 2019, Parties adopted the Enhanced Lima Work Programme and its Gender Action Plan (Decision 3/CP.25), reiterating the importance of the “full, meaningful and equal participation and leadership of women in all aspects of the UNFCCC process” and recognizing such participation and leadership should be happening at all levels. Once again focusing on gender-balance, women’s participation and leadership as one of five priority areas, the GAP’s three activities in this area focused on capacity-building for women delegates; travel funds for both Party delegates and grassroots, local and Indigenous Peoples communities; and a dialogue with the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform Facilitative Working Group. Parties are designated the “leading” contributors for the first two activities, an attempt to place responsibility on Parties for ensuring women’s participation increases, yet given the corresponding lack of increase in women’s participation, it is clear that many Parties have not taken on the responsibility of improving women’s participation and leadership on their own delegations.

In Glasgow at COP26, Parties requested via Decision 3/CP.26 that the Secretariat explore automation of the process to capture sex-disaggregate speaking times, following the insightful data from the 2021 gender composition report noting the dynamics of speaking times of delegates compared to their relative representation. This work added another dimension to the gender composition report, as requested by the GAP adopted at COP25, which confirmed that males, comprising the majority of delegates in a room, speak the majority of the time, while also highlighting other gendered discrepancies in speaking time across different spaces.  

Methodology 

The country data highlighted for Parties was collected from the official, final UNFCCC participant lists for each meeting during the years 2008-2021, including all intersessional and COP meetings. Data collection is restricted to published information on participants in official government delegations and members of UNFCCC boards and bodies; non-governmental stakeholders have not been taken into account. The data for constituted bodies is drawn from the UNFCCC's annual gender composition reports. For more information regarding the datasets and methodology, please contact tara@wedo.org.

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