Gender Equality and a Sustainable Planet - We cannot achieve one without the other


Ms. Christine Arab; Country Representative, UN Women Egypt
Ms. Christine Arab; Country Representative, UN Women Egypt

Gender inequality and the environmental crisis are the two greatest sustainable development challenges of our time. Climate change and COVID-19 have worsened existing inequalities world wide. Biodiversity loss, desertification, pollution, and extreme weather events decimate livelihoods and increase poverty and displacement. Globally, women and girls are disproportionately affected, as they depend more on – yet have less access to – services and resources. Despite this reality, women are increasingly the drivers of climate adaptation and sustainable responses at the community level.

More than ever, it is crucial to work together to realize a gender-equal world with climate-smart and sustainable approaches. At this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – the world’s largest gathering on gender equality currently being held in New York – governments will agree on the priorities to address gender and climate change. Ahead of the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, these CSW priorities will underline how gender equality can drive climate action and mitigate impacts. Egypt has prioritized gender equality and women’s empowerment at the highest level, and its presidency of COP27 is an opportunity to mobilize Member States and private sector to do the same.

Climate change induced increases the price of energy and food, worsens poverty levels, strains national budgets and jeopardizes competitiveness. This particularly affects women, especially those facing intersecting inequalities. Protecting against an increase in food insecurity remains a priority of the Government of Egypt, with the country ranked 55th of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index (2019), and an estimated 74.3% of households in rural Upper Egypt facing food insecurity (FAO 2020). In a time of global rise in food prices, worldwide the engagement of local women’s voices on identification of needs and response to food insecurity is essential to ensure greater community resilience... Working with our national counterparts and stakeholders, UN Women has decades’ long investments in strengthening women’s leadership in the public and private sector, leveraging women’s key role as drivers of economic growth, fostering greater support for women’s rights to live free from violence, and enhancing support for their paid and unpaid care contributions. These areas of advancement are crucial if we are to see sustainable livelihoods in this changing planet. 

Women’s and girls’ equal participation and leadership in developing environmental and disaster risk reduction policies should be enhanced to ensure effective responsesResearch shows that countries with more women in parliament and with more women involved in managing local natural resources often result in the adoption of stricter national climate change policies resulting in lower emissions and tends to lead to more equitable and inclusive local resource governance and better local conservation outcomes. Embedded within the policy agenda, it is important to improve gender statistics and sex disaggregated data in the gender-environment nexus and significant investments at all levels are needed in this regard.

Gender-responsive financing and robust data and statistics are key. While billions of dollars flow to environmental issues, a tiny fraction addresses gender and far less targets the climate-gender nexus. Globally, 2020 was a record-breaking year for the Green, Social, Sustainability and Sustainability-Linked bond market, with total issuances exceeding US$600 billion. However, less than 1% of this market is aligned with women’s empowerment objectives. Diverse financial instruments can provide accessible, affordable funding to women’s enterprises and cooperatives. Global, national and subnational environmental grants should include conditions and reporting requirements tailored to women’s organizations.

It is essential to ensure women’s access to essential services and social protection during climate-related crises, including access to nationally-mandated sexual and reproductive health and rights and to ensured access to essential prevention, response and recovery services for those experiencing gender-based violence. Of equal importance is the need to strengthen universal gender-responsive social protection and care systems so as to protect against the disproportionate impacts of climate change and to bolster the resilience of women and communities.

Sustainable solutions requires strengthened acknowledgement and investment in women. Agriculture contributes to 11.3% of Egypt’s gross domestic product and is the largest employer of women (45% of the agricultural workforce) (FAO). Given the key role they play in this sector, ensuring women’s role and voice in sustainable solutions is just smart business sense. This includes sustainable agricultural approaches, such as agroecology, supporting gender-responsive climate-resilient livelihoods and food sovereignty, and building on scientific and local knowledge and practices to sustain diversity. Expanding decentralized sustainable energy solutions in areas unserved by national electricity grids would significantly benefit the livelihoods and resilience of women and girls and reduce their unpaid care and domestic work.

Private sector engagement on dynamic, gender-responsive approaches is key for transitioning into green and blue economies. This includes financing innovative climate services and adaptation technologies, mobilizing technical capacities, supporting novel financing strategies targeting energy efficiency, promoting green jobs, and leveraging governmental efforts in positioning resilience and adaptation as top priorities.

Linked to this, strengthened investment in closing the global gender digital divide – and gaps in access to education, information and skills – facilitates equal access to risk-informed knowledge, communications, forecasting and preparedness, including early warning systems. In Egypt and worldwide, there is a need for enhancing capacity-building, education and awareness-raising among labour-market stakeholders on climate response actions and sustainability solutions.

Worldwide, it is important to build the resilience of women’s organizations to ensure they can anticipate and effectively respond to climate and environment disasters. Governments collaborating with women’s organizations can help ensure that national climate policies meet the specific needs of women and girls and are effectively implemented and can contribute to building climate resilience at the local level.

Throughout Africa, women’s voice and leadership has been a key driver of climate change successes in recent years. Egypt’s presidency of COP27 gives opportunity to highlight these gains and leverage strengthened global commitment to increasing and ensuring a more gender-equal approach towards climate, environment, and disaster risk reduction.

Read in Arabic.