Is history repeating itself, or is a strong commitment to gender equality really on the table? During yesterday’s open-ended consultations on SBI agenda 21 (Other matters), the EU introduced a draft decision promoting gender equality in the UN climate negotiation process. The draft text decision, Promoting gender equality by improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established pursuant to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Kyoto Protocol is in fact a re-affirmation and strengthening of a decision already taken more than a decade ago. During COP7 in Marrakech, the parties agreed to adopt Decision 36/CP.7, which recognized the importance of gender equality in climate decision making; urged the parties to nominate women to elected UNFCCC positions; and requested the Secretariat to keep information on the gender composition of UNFCCC bodies with elective posts.
Despite this decision, participation of women in UNFCCC bodies and as Party delegates overall has remained disappointingly low. With that in mind, the EU delegation submitted this new decision to remind COP participants of the importance of gender equality. In many ways, the proposed decision is similar to the old one: it recognizes the importance of women’s participation as part of effective and equitable climate policy; requests the Secretariat to keep information on women’s participation in the conferences; and sets a goal of gender balance in all UNFCCC bodies.
So what purpose does this decision serve, besides reminding a plenary session of what they (hopefully) already know? First, it is important to take note that when this decision was brought to Parties, it was introduced under “Any Other Business”. That means that the needs and concerns of half the world’s population were not given a place of their own in the central agenda of the COP. Adopting this decision would place gender and climate change issues on the official COP agenda so that the interests of women would no longer be considered auxiliary to UNFCCC goals. Secondly, the decision requests the Secretariat to convene a workshop at COP19 to discuss gender responsive policies and strategies to advance gender equality in climate decision-making. Finally, it requests Parties and observer organisations to submit, by 31 September 2013, their views on options and ways to advance the goal of the decision.
Parties (including Bangladesh, Ghana, Iceland, India, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, UAE and the United States) voiced support and some text revisions during the open-ended consultations co-chaired by Kuni Shimada (Japan) and Ambassador Diseko (South Africa). The UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency proposed replacing “by” with “and” in the draft decision title. This seemingly innocuous amendment ensures that women’s equitable participation is recognized as a procedural right, while gender equitable outcomes of UNFCCC decisions would be recognized as a goal in its own right. The Women and Gender Constituency also suggested strengthening the paragraph requesting an in-session workshop, by deleting a reference to this workshop as subject to “available resources”.
The decision made in Marrakech came about when the ‘gender and climate’ debate was mainly about addressing the near complete absence of women from the process. This new decision will address the still existing gaps. We have come a long way since then in recognising that gender equality goes beyond participation in decision-making. The outcomes of COP16 and COP17, for example, included language on a variety of critical issues for women’s and men’s lives and livelihoods. Replacing the ‘by’ with an ‘and’, a decision could be adopted that closes the gap on women’s procedural rights. But it also opens space for discussion on how to promote gender equitable outcomes, as COPs 16 and 17 have started to do.