Panel Targets Gender, Climate Connection

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a panel discussion on the lack of female involvement in climate change mitigation and the effect climate change has on women in the Intercultural Center Auditorium on Friday.

The event, titled “Women and Climate Change: Impact and Agency in Human Rights, Security and Economic Development,” featured speakers including former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, GIWPS Director Melanne Verveer, Care USA Vice President Radha Muthiah, and Vice President of the World Bank and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte.

GIWPS hosted the event to mark the release of its new report, which highlights the disproportionate vulnerability of women to impacts of climate change compared to men, as well as the benefits of involving women in climate change negotiations.

After a brief introduction by School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman, Robinson provided a brief history of women’s involvement in climate change mitigation policy, recalling the role of women in recent climate change victories such as the 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.

Muthiah emphasized how women in poverty see the worst impacts of climate change in their daily lives. According to Muthiah, women in poverty must walk long distances for cooking fuel because of deforestation. Additionally, once they obtain the cooking fuel, toxic fumes slowly degrade their health and overall well-being.

“Four million deaths per year … can be attributed to the inefficient cook stoves and fuel, where women are really at the forefront of both the design, manufacture, distribution and creation of awareness among other women about these alternative and better ways of cooking,” Muthiah said.

However, Muthiah said that women have been active in sustainability initiatives in their communities.

“What we’re seeing as a result of this is that women have more time, they come up with … environmentally sustainable practices, and they are taking more leadership roles within their communities,” Muthiah said.

The panelists also discussed the U.N.’s recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goals 5 and 13b specifically recognize the role of women in climate change action. All the speakers agreed that policy negotiators must do more to ensure that women stay involved in the planning and management of climate change mitigation.

Halonen spoke on the Sustainable Development Goals and the lessons that the U.N. learned from the Millennium Development Goals, which addressed extreme poverty and environmental sustainability.

“You have to make them more transparent– the whole system. That’s why it’s very important that we have good indicators. We also have to be flexible to see whether or not we have found the correct index system so we can adjust and correct it,” Halonen said. “International financial institutions, like the World Bank or the [International Monetary Fund], are also people we have to work with to establish good climate and business budgets.”

In his concluding remarks, Kyte emphasized the need for future climate change policies to focus on resilience, especially in anticipation of climate change disasters, and to be representative of both men and women. In addition, she stressed the need to put a price on carbon.

“These decisions won’t get made unless [women] are in the room,” Kyte said. “The price of action is so much higher than the price of inaction. However difficult it is to pass legislation, it is nowhere near as difficult as having to completely rebuild.”

Jessica Hickle (SFS ’18) attended the event in part due to her interest in women’s issues, and also to expand her knowledge on the issue of climate change.

“I wanted to be able to hear from experts about it. I thought it was really eye-opening,” Hickle said. “Every time I’ve heard about climate change, it’s never been in the context that it was today, with the importance of women in the issue. I am so shocked that more people don’t talk about this side of it.”


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