‘Let us rebuild the table’: the call for more equitable and gender inclusive climate talks

Panelists spoke openly against systemic practices that perpetuate gender inequalities and youth exclusion in climate dialogue.

©FAO/Tamiru Legesse


A strong plea to remodel the climate dialogue for achieving gender equality, youth inclusion and gender parity marked a virtual event co-hosted by FAO, CGIAR GENDER Platform, UN Climate Change and Youth Climate Movement (YouNGO) on 17 March 2022 during the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66). Nearly 100 attendees followed the event moderated by Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director of FAO’s Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment.

Researchers, practitioners and activists spoke up against the deep-rooted systemic practices enduring gender inequalities and youth exclusion within the negotiations around climate action. Panellists called for a turnaround in the ways negotiations are currently held to overcome the common under-representation of women in national delegations and ensure that women’s and youth’s voices are effectively listened and pondered. 

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, called for more investments in strengthening women’s and youth’s skills in leadership negotiation and business. “Empowering, engaging and giving voice to women and youth, will allow new economic opportunities and markets to flourish,” said Ms. Semedo, a lead advocate for gender issues who chairs FAO Women’s Committee, an inclusive volunteer-based initiative made of FAO’s female workforce. “We have seen that when women and youth participate at the political level, there is a greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs. Including women and youth at the leadership level results in more effective climate-related projects and policies.”

“We have first to admit that the system has failed women” underlined Nicoline de Haan, Director of the CGIAR GENDER Platform, transcribing the empirical evidence about gender and climate. “There is a lot of pressure on women to solve everything. But the system is not there yet. Women do not have the required tools. So let us first find out what the issues are and how can we solve them, but at the same time, find solutions that on Monday morning will help a woman deal with climate change. And let us not just keep talking.”

Rachel Allen, FAO Coordinator for Gender and Climate Change, gave passionate emphasis to the urgent need for gender-transformative changes: “Saying to women to come into the room and take a seat… You cannot take a seat that was not built for you in the first place,” voiced Ms. Allen. “Let us throw the table out! Let us rebuild the table with gender diversity, racial diversity, cultural diversity, having indigenous women and men on it, having men and women with disabilities on it, and then really start to build a microcosm of what our world, the ‘real world’, looks like. And then we will find honest and authentic solutions to a lot of the climate change issues that we face.”

“This important issue of representation and leadership of women should not just be left up to women to sort out,” acknowledged Fleur Newman, Gender Focal Point at the UN Climate Change Secretariat. “Addressing barriers to women's full and equal engagement and contribution to climate policy and action starts at the top. And often at the top – whether in governments, companies or organizations – there are not necessarily women leading already. So, there is definitely a role for men, particularly men in leadership positions, to lead on gender equality, but also on applying a climate lens and looking at themselves and their own organizations and their own sphere of influence in order to make change.”

Youth inclusion, education and alternative forums

According to a study by Brookings Institution, girls’ education can lead to powerful climate solutions by fostering their climate leadership and pro-environmental decision-making. Research has found a moderate correlation between the number of women delegates involved in climate negotiations and their countries’ respective rates of education for girls. In other words, more years of schooling for girls may result in greater women’s leadership in the global climate talks. Furthermore, studies suggest that women are more likely to make decisions that favour environmental conservation and protection.

“We need more women leaders. This will definitely happen with girls’ education, where they feel empowered,” highlighted Henrietta Wood, Member of YouNGO’s Women and Gender Working Group, who backed transformative changes in social norms as a way to expand girls’ access to education.  “Inspiring women to become leaders in their homes, communities and even countries, cannot be achieved by an unjust education system. The education system needs to cultivate wisdom, motivation and an emancipation from traditional roles which are fueling the barriers holding women back”. 

Carla Madueño, Ecologist and Climate Youth Activist at the Youth in Landscapes Initiative, applauded the role of alternative fora that bring light to outweighed issues affecting marginalized views, including women’s. “These different platforms give underrepresented groups like youth or female leaders a voice and a stake. Perhaps these emerging spaces are new decision-making tables that we shall not underestimate because these are parallel spaces of power that certainly have a great contribution to provide to leaders,” said Ms. Madueño, who is a member of one of such fora.

“There are some improvements, but not enough. We have created new spaces and opportunities, but the statistics show that we are not there yet. There are issues with culture and the system, as well as opportunities to rebuild something new where everyone can take part of, instead of building something that includes only part of the society,” concluded Mr Ould-Dada.

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