Women’s Strong engagement in Climate Change is Critical

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Osman-Elasha Balgis

Interview with  Osman-Elasha Balgis, AfDB Climate Change Adaptation Expert

To become more active and able to deal effectively with climate change, women need to be empowered and granted greater access to education, extension services and modern technologies, said  Osman-Elasha Balgis in an interview on the occasion marking 100 years of International Women’s Day. She also affirmed that emphasis on women’s education, including incentives and scholarships in science is important for sustainable provision of qualified women candidates required to occupy key positions and reduce the existing gap in public and private sector jobs.

Question: The theme of this year’s international Women’s Day is "Equal access to education, training, science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women". Do you think that there are enough women working on climate change? What is it like to work in a male dominated sector?

Answer: It is true that there are fewer women working on climate change compared to men. In October 2009, Ban Ki Moon urged women to play a greater role in climate change debates. But recently, the United Nations was criticized by women’s group for appointing only men to a High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing to mobilize the financing promised for climate change during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December. However, a woman was later on added to the group. A recent report by Women’s Environmental Network titled “Gender and the Climate Change Agenda” [1] found that in most countries, both developed and developing, women were under-represented at national level, both in government and the private sector. Moreover, they are poorly represented in both official delegations and in business and civil society groups at the international level. The report further revealed that women who have been involved have have made significant contributions to the outcomes of the negotiations.

Generally speaking, in Africa we can say that there are not enough men and women climate change experts, although the continent is considered by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report as the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This situation is reflected in lack of awareness and understanding of climate change issues among a wide range of stakeholders in Africa, particularly rural women who are usually the first to be hit by the impacts of extreme climatic events.

The need for women’s strong engagement in climate change is particularly critical; taking into consideration the high proportion of women involved in largely vulnerable sectors such as agriculture in which women participation ranges from 20% to 70%.   

The poor representation of women in planning and decision-making processes on climate change policies is evident and warrants due consideration. It is actually one of the main  reasons behind  the lack of gender considerations in the on-going global climate debates,  restraining  women’s capacity to engage in political decisions related to climate change.  

Regarding the question on what is it like to work in a male-dominated sector? I would say that it is very challenging to work on climate change not only because it is a male- dominated sector but also because it is an emerging multi-faceted threat to human security and livelihoods, which requires a thorough understanding of its different aspects and interacting stressors. Moreover, climate change is a challenge that requires collaboration among a wide range of institutions and effective coordination across different stakeholder groups, which is really lacking in many African countries. In this respect, I believe that women, with their wider scope and vision, should be at the centre of programmes and plans to reduce climate change-related risks and adaptation to climate change. Their involvement should go from policy to community-level where they can significantly contribute to adaptation and community management.

Question: In your opinion, what can be done to involve more women and girls in climate change related issues?   

Answer: Women are not only affected by climate change, but can also play a vital role in identifying solutions. Crucial to reducing vulnerability to climate change is the understanding of how individuals, groups and systems can prepare for and respond to changes.  To become more active and able to deal effectively with climate change, women need to be empowered and granted greater access to education and extension services and modern technologies. Emphasis on women’s education, including incentives and scholarships in science, is important for the sustainable provision of qualified women candidates required to occupy key positions and reduce the existing gap in public and private sector jobs.

Greater support is required to strengthen women’s capacity in political arena. Their representation in governments, parliaments, and institutions is an important avenue to making climate change policies more gender responsive. It is equally important to educate and build capacity among decision-makers and other stakeholders in matters that relate to gender and climate change, to ensure the development of effective mitigation and adaptation policies.

Necessary actions should be taken to ensure women’s active involvement in climate change related debates at different levels. Evidence has shown that developed countries with higher levels of female political representation have been most successful in reducing overall carbon dioxide levels.

Question: What would be your message to the Bank on 2011 Women’s Day?

Answer: The Bank should aim at:

  • Systematically raising awareness on the gender implications of climate change impacts and promote concrete actions to improve the situation of African women in relation to climate change at different levels.  
  • Collaborating with women’s organizations to promote greater and wider understanding of gender and climate change issues.
  • Supporting investments and fostering the development of  women negotiators and addressing their key  challenges such as access to scientific knowledge and use of information and climate change data projections,  training in early warning and risk management, and use of modern technology.
  • Providing platforms that bring together climate change and gender specialists, as well as providing for dynamic thinking  and debates around gender and climate change issues,  
  • Ensuring monitoring of all gender mainstreaming of climate change-related efforts, policy making and project implementation 

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