» Women underrepresented in decision-making on climate change
25.01.2016 - Natural Sciences Sector

Women underrepresented in decision-making on climate change

Prof. Segenet Kelemu received the 2014 L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for her research on improving forage grasses capacity to adapt to environmental and climate change. © Julien Dufort/ L’Oréal Foundation.

A number of observers drew attention to the gender imbalance at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (30 November–12 December 2015). The United Nations’ Special Envoy on Climate Change, Mary Robinson, remarked, for instance, that the underrepresentation of women at the conference was detrimental to taking action to save people from the ravages of climate change (1). The lack of a gender balance is confirmed by the latest UNESCO Science Report, which also observes gender differences in the ability to cope with climate change-induced shocks.

Released on 10 November 2015, the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 observes that ‘women are not represented equally in the key climate-change related sectors of science as skilled workers, professionals or decision-makers. Although they are fairly well represented in some related science disciplines – including health, agriculture and environmental management – they are very much a minority in other fields that will be vital for the transition to sustainable development, such as energy, engineering, transportation, information technology (IT) and computing – the latter being important for warning systems, information-sharing and environmental monitoring.’

‘Even in those scientific fields where women are present, they are underrepresented in policy-making and programming’, observes the report. ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a case in point. In this country, women are well-represented in governmental decision-making structures related to climate change, such as energy and transportation, environment and health services. They are also comparatively well-represented in related scientific disciplines. Many of them serve on the National Climate Change Committee. However, when it comes to designing and implementing plans, interpreting decisions and monitoring results, women are a rare commodity.’

Moreover, ‘since men tend to enjoy a higher socio-economic status, women are disproportionately affected by droughts, floods and other extreme weather events and marginalized when it comes to making decisions on recovery and adaptation,’ states the report. ‘Some economic sectors will be strongly affected by climate change but women and men will not necessarily be affected in the same way. In the tourism sector, for instance, women in developing countries tend to earn less than their male counterparts and occupy fewer managerial positions. They are also overrepresented in the non-agricultural informal sector: 84% in sub-Saharan Africa, 86% in Asia and 58% in Latin America. There are, thus, clear gender differences in the ability to cope with climate change-induced shocks.’

The report recalls that, ‘as the global community prepares to make the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, it is turning its attention from a focus on poverty reduction to a broader perspective combining socio-economic and environmental priorities. Over the next 15 years, scientific research will play a key role in monitoring relevant trends in such areas as food security, health, water and sanitation, energy, the management of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems and climate change. Women will play an essential role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, by helping to identify global problems and find solutions.’

Source: adapted from Huyer, S. (2015) Is the gender gap narrowing in science and engineering? UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030.

UNESCO: addressing persistent inequalities in science

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) partnership has used prizes and fellowships to shine the spotlight on role models from all over the world, whose achievements can often inspire women and girls everywhere to opt for a scientific career.

Meanwhile, UNESCO's STEM and Gender Advancement project (SAGA) is helping to draw attention to the gender gap by determining, measuring and assessing sex-disaggregated data. The project is also undertaking an inventory of policy instruments that affect gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as a first step towards generating better indicators that support evidence-based policy making.

UNESCO also promotes the participation of women in high-level processes that shape the science agenda and science policies, thus ensuring that the unique perspectives of women scientists and knowledge-holders contribute to problem-solving related to climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater management, ocean health, the development of green industries and societies, in order to foster development that is both sustainable and equitable.

(1)  Source: COP21 is too male dominated and has male priorities, says UN special envoy (The Guardian)

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