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Women must lead battle against environment crisis – UN Chief

UN Secretary-General António Guterres says to forge a sustainable future for us all, women and girls must be front and centre, leading the way against environmental crises.

Guterres said this at the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on Monday at UN headquarters, New York.

He described the climate and environmental crises, coupled with the ongoing economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, as “the defining issues of our time,” reminding that “our collective response will chart our course for decades to come.”

Noting that the, “unprecedented emergencies of the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of new and ongoing conflicts.”

He said the conflicts had accelerated and intensified into widespread and interlinked crises that affect us all,” he told the participants at the hybrid opening day event that the damage would not be meted out equally.

“Everywhere, women and girls face the greatest threats and the deepest harm.”

And while they are taking action to confront the climate and environmental crises, they continue to be largely excluded from the rooms where decisions are taken.

“Women and girls living in small island nations, least developed countries, and places affected by conflict, are impacted most of all,’’ the UN chief said.

Their nutrition and livelihoods are disproportionately affected by extreme weather, and they suffer most when local natural resources come under threat.

And with increasing climate shocks, evidence points to a link between child marriage and exploitation.

“When climate disasters strike, as they do with increasing frequency, research shows that women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die,” he said.

Guterres expressed his deep alarm over the increase in violence and threats against women human rights defenders and environmental activists.

“Gender discrimination means just a tiny proportion of landowners and leaders are women,” he explained.

He noted that their women’s needs and interests are “often ignored and pushed aside” in policies and decisions on land use, pollution, conservation and climate action.

He informed the participants that just one-third of decision-making roles under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement are occupied by women; while they account for only 15 per cent of environment ministers.

Moreover, only one-third of 192 national energy frameworks include gender considerations, and they are rarely considered in climate financing.

“This demonstrates once more that we live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture,” the UN chief spelled out highlighting “a millennium of patriarchy that excludes women and prevents their voices from being heard.”

“We cannot realise any of our goals without the contributions of all…including men and boys…working for women’s rights and gender equality.”

The Paris Agreement addresses biodiversity loss, land degradation and pollution –vital to creating lives of dignity for all on a healthy planet.

Women and girl leaders, farmers, policymakers, economists, lawyers and climate activists are vital to build the sustainable economies and resilient societies of tomorrow.

“But we will not get there without women’s full and equal participation and leadership,” he stressed.

Over the past two years, gender inequalities and injustices have been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Millions of women have been thrown out of work and confronted with “an impossible choice” between earning an income or doing unpaid but essential care work as millions of out-of-school girls “may never return.”

“Tackling these issues requires a united front, protecting hard-won gains on women’s rights while investing in lifelong learning, healthcare, decent jobs and social protection for women and girls,” the UN chief upheld.

“Gender equality and women’s rights must be at the heart of a renewed social contract that is fit for today’s societies and economies.”

At the global level, the secretary-general cited his Our Common Agenda report, which proposes a power rebalance through a New Global Deal and a peace agenda to reduce all violence – including gender-based violence – and put women and girls at the heart of security policy.

He also reminded that the UN is working to support the participation and leadership of women at every stage of building and maintaining peace, including through his special envoys and representatives, who are designing and supporting strategies for more inclusive peace processes.

Guterres added that gender advisers in UN Special Political Missions promote women’s participation and ensure that their priorities are “integral” to all political efforts, describing women’s equal leadership as “not only a matter of justice…[but] vital to create peaceful, resilient communities and societies.

“We cannot separate the perilous state of peace in our world from long-standing structures of patriarchy and exclusion,” he said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “another clear demonstration of this everywhere.” (NAN)

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