Breaking the green glass ceiling: Where were the women at COP28's World Climate Action Summit?

President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Britain's King Charles, and officials pose for a family photo during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
opinion

President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Britain's King Charles, and officials pose for a family photo during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

From water scarcity to food insecurity, women bear the brunt of environmental crises, yet their voices remain marginalized

By activists Brianna Fruean, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye and Txai Suruí.

The photo of world leaders taken yesterday at COP has been dubbed 'the family' photo by the media.

But as world leaders gathered for COP28 to address the pressing issue of climate change, one glaring omission stood out. Unlike most families - in a sea of suits and ties - it was challenging to spot female faces, begging the question: where were the women in this critical conversation about the planet's future?

While the urgency of climate action was the focal point of discussions, witnessing the persistent gender gap in leadership roles in matters of global significance is soul destroying.

As we works towards a just transition, inclusivity must be at the forefront of our efforts; this begins with equal representation.

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Over the course of the World Climate Action Summit, 140 world leaders were scheduled to speak, of which 15 are women - just over 10%. Analysis of delegations at COP28 shows the gender balance of party delegations to be 62% male to 38% female, which highlights the gender gap despite the improvement from previous COPs.

The absence of women in the visual narrative of COP28, reflected in the absence of women in the plenary halls, raises concerns about whether the diverse voices of women are genuinely being heard and incorporated into climate policies.

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It's no secret that women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, particularly in vulnerable communities. From water scarcity to food insecurity, women bear the brunt of environmental crises, yet their voices remain marginalized.

It's crucial to recognize that the fight for climate justice is intrinsically tied to gender equality. Women are not just passive victims of climate change; they are powerful agents of change.

Studies consistently show that when women are included in decision-making processes, the outcomes are more sustainable and beneficial for all. Their unique perspectives, experiences, and solutions are invaluable in crafting comprehensive policies that address the multifaceted challenges of climate change.

To achieve meaningful progress, we need more than just lip service to gender equality. It's time for leaders to acknowledge that women are not just stakeholders in the fight against climate change – they are leaders, innovators, and drivers of transformative change. The absence of women at COP28 is not just a visual oversight; it reflects a systemic issue that needs urgent attention.

The call for gender parity in climate discussions is not about tokenism; it's about recognizing the undeniable fact that women are key to achieving climate justice. The urgency of the climate crisis demands a united front that includes every perspective, irrespective of gender. By fostering diversity and inclusivity in climate decision-making, we can forge a path towards a sustainable and equitable future.

As we scrutinize the family photo of world leaders at COP28, let's not forget that the fight against climate change requires a truly global and gender-inclusive effort. It's time to break the green glass ceiling and ensure that women's voices are not only heard but are central to the narrative of climate justice. The planet's survival depends on it, and so does the well-being of every person, regardless of gender.

Brianna Fruean is a climate activist with Pacific Climate Warriors.

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is a Ugandan climate and environmental rights activist, and founded Uganda's Fridays for Future movement.

Txai Suruí is an Indigenous Brazilian environmental activist.


Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Tags

  • Gender equity
  • Climate policy
  • Climate inequality
  • Communicating climate change


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