Gender@UNFCCC

GenderCC's engagement with the international climate regime is based on the notion that gender equality and human rights are fundamental to a strong and effective response to global climate change.

This section provides an overview of our activities at the UNFCCC conferences - from COP1 right through to the present day negotiations - as well as current information on key negotiating topics, and the role of the Women and Gender Constituency.


A discreet start on gender issues

Throughout the past decade there has been slow but steady progress made towards identifying and addressing the many linkages between climate change and gender.

This is largely due to the ongoing efforts of women’s rights organisations and gender experts, who recognised at a very early stage that gender aspects were largely absent in the realm of climate policy, despite the clear need to connect climate justice with gender justice.

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as the main framework for international efforts to tackle climate change, it failed to include any reference to gender. In contrast, the other outcomes of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (also known as the Earth Summit) – including Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration, and the Conventions on Biodiversity and on Desertification and Drought – all made clear attempts to address women’s concerns and recommendations.  

Some have argued that the highly technical and economically-driven nature of the process made it hard to find entry points for social dimensions, including gender aspects. However, recognition of the need to strengthen women’s participation in the negotiation process and address gender issues has grown substantially, to the point that gender equality is now reflected in a number of key UNFCCC decisions and bodies.

GenderCC members have been pushing for gender justice to be integrated in all climate-related policies and processes since the very beginning – even prior to the official formation of the GenderCC network in 2008.


A slow but steady progress

There is a progressive integration of gender dimensions into climate action at the international level. The multiplication of studies on the issue helped to increase evidence of the interlinkages between climate change and gender. International institutions, such as the UNFCCC and the IPCC have slowly taken up the issue in the last decade.

A key decision under the UNFCCC on the issue was taken in 2014, during COP20 in Lima. The Lima Work Programme on Gender (Decision 18/CP.20) establishes a “two-year programme for promoting gender balance and achieving gender-responsive climate policy” by promoting gender mainstreaming and women’s participation in the climate negotiations. It also requests the appointment of a senior gender focal point by the Executive Secretary to ensure the implementation of that two-year programme. Parties and relevant organisations are also involved by promoting training, raising awareness on the issue and building the skills and capacity of women’s delegates to improve their participation in negotiations. The decision also recognises the need of a special budget to achieve the objectives.

In 2016, the decision 21/CP.22 on “Gender and Climate Change” was taken at COP22 in Marrakech, which extended the Lima Work Programme for three years more, until 2019. Faced with the need to strengthen the gender dimensions in climate policies in all areas (adaptation, mitigation, implementation, decision making...), Parties requested the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) “to develop a gender action plan in order to support the implementation of gender-related decision and mandates under the UNFCCC process.”

As a consequence, a Gender Action Plan (Decision 3/CP.23) was approved by the Parties in 2017, during COP23. Recognising the lack of progress in delegation for gender balance and the need to strengthen the gender-responsiveness of policies, the gender action plan (GAP) focus on “the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC process.” The GAP defines five priority areas for action and contains a set of 16 specific activities for the two years following its adoption (read the full text here). It will be monitored and reviewed every two years and constitutes one of the main reference and lever of action in the field.

The Lima Work Programme and the GAP are the two main work streams on gender in the intergovernmental process under the UNFCCC. It should be noted that 2019 will be a decisive year as the Lima Work Programme and the GAP will be reviewed. This is an opportunity to evaluate progress and challenges of gender-responsiveness in climate action and enhance ambition to reach a just ecological transition while leaving no one behind.



Women's participation in Parties' delegations

Improving the participation of women in climate change decision-making presents an ongoing challenge, both at national and international level.

While the numbers of women on UNFCCC boards, bodies and government delegations have improved slightly in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented, particularly in high-level positions.
At the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Cancun, for example, women accounted for as few as 30 per cent of all party delegation and between 12 and 15 per cent of all heads of party delegations to the UNFCCC. Since COP 21 (Paris) the size of the parties' delegations is increasing. Astonishingly, with the higher number of party-delegates the share of women is dramatically decreasing.

The first attempt to address the importance of women’s participation in the UNFCCC was made in Marrakesh in 2001, yet progress on implementing this decision has been limited. At COP18 in Doha, Qatar, an additional decision on promoting ‘gender balance’ in the UNFCCC was adopted by all Parties.

While this progress is welcome, it is important to keep in mind that in order to enable equal participation of women in climate change processes at all levels, there is a need to address the deep-rooted social and cultural inequalities that can act as constraints to women’s real inclusion and prevent them from participating meaningfully.