Empowering women to lead the way on climate change

By Connie Britton, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador

As world leaders meet for climate talks this week in Bonn, at the UN Climate Change Conference, they should embrace the tenacity, spirit and energy of women to promote more effective climate actions across the globe.

We will not achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement — nor our goals of ending hunger and poverty and protecting our planet — if we don’t put women up front as the key agents of change.

Although females make up half of the world’s population, we are often pushed to the sidelines in decision-making. But women are poised to be grass-roots fighters for climate protection, since so much of the burden for climate action will now fall on them at local levels. This has become a citizens’ movement.

Much of the work is being done on the ground — in farms, ranches, homesteads, and industries that are impacted by climate change — but needs to continue up to the boardroom and to the places of power where decisions are made, fates are decided, lines are drawn, and deals are brokered. Women have unique approaches that can complement joint efforts to fight climate change in new, innovative, and more sustainable ways.

I think about all the young women and mothers who are facing starvation with the prolonged droughts in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

These women should be the central pillars in feeding their families. Yet they are removed from decision-making at home, lack access to resources like land, savings accounts, and insurance, and don’t have the basic essentials many take for granted. Climate action must not only shift to address the unique needs of these women and girls, but it must also empower them and utilize them as true agents of change.

How do we do this? Women need more access to climate governance through important mechanisms like the UN climate talks, and leadership roles at both local and regional levels.

They also need education, training, and resources to protect their local ecosystems, feed their families, and save enough money to send their kids to school and to the doctor. Women need to be empowered as entrepreneurs so they can access new markets, such as farming, with new climate-resilient crops — which would insulate their communities from the revolving shocks that climate change brings.

As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP, I have been inspired by women taking the lead around the world, such as Apiyeiw Akwor in Ethiopia, a single mother who, despite changing rainfalls and recurring droughts, doubled her family’s income with new solar-powered irrigation systems and new farming techniques.

Such women are the face of the beginnings of true climate action. Action that goes beyond taking women into account and actually brings them to the table is the only answer for facing climate change head on.

This oped was originally published in the Boston Globe.

Connie Britton

In her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme, actor and activist Connie Britton focuses on poverty reduction and women's empowerment. Follow Connie on Twitter: @conniebritton,  Instagram: @conniebritton and Facebook: @theconniebritton

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Last Updated: 16 Nov 2017