Gender and Climate Change. Hmm. I was puzzled. What does gender have to do with the environment? Surely climate change doesn’t discriminate between men and women.
I was also rather sceptical. My general view – which I realize may be unpopular with many liberals – is that positive discrimination can appear patronizing, and can actually undermine the equality that it attempts to foster – by unfairly penalizing deserving members of the dominant group. I’m thinking here of the recent tendency of Oxford and Cambridge to favour state school applicants over private school students, resulting in selections that occasionally appear anomalous or even downright bizarre. I managed to get into Oxford, having been educated at zero cost to my parents, in the days before positive discrimination. So my bias – rightly or wrongly – is that individuals can create their own destinies regardless of background.
So it was with a piqued sense of curiosity and that I turned up today for my meeting with Marion Rolle and Minu Hemmati of GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice. I can report that I am now better informed – and even possible a convert to their cause.
First of all, “gender” does not mean exclusively women. If men were the under-represented half of the world’s population, we agreed, we would stand up for their rights as much as we would stand up for our own. And that it would be very nice to be in the happy position of offering such magnanimity after many years of the opposite.
Second, climate change DOES discriminate between men and women – as an example, with increasing desertification and the retreat of the glaciers in developing countries, the burden would typically fall to the women to walk the extra distance to fetch water.
Third, the factors that contribute to climate change are also gender-differentiated. Men tend to choose bigger cars and drive them faster, while women influence decisions around the home such as what foods to buy (think of those food miles) and how many children to have. So different considerations apply to different genders.
Gender CC is seeking to get a specific reference to gender included in any treaty emerging from COP15. It was apparently included in an early draft of the statement, but was subsequently removed when the draft was downsized from its original 200 pages. I wondered out loud why this had happened. Was it possibly because:
- a) The document was just too big, and something had to go
- b) It was felt that women were adequately represented, so the reference was superfluous
- c) Some countries would refuse to sign up to such an agreement due to a cultural or religious bias against female representation
- d) All of the above
- e) None of the above – something else instead?
For me, the most convincing argument was that, if such a reference to gender were included, women who might normally be denied a voice – as in (c) – would be able to point to the treaty and insist on involvement, e.g. to have a say in how any international grants for mitigation measures might be allocated. Developing countries (where women are often under-represented) may receive substantial funding from developed countries to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Kiribati is a prime example.
In a perfect world, all sectors of society would have some say in how international funding should be allocated. Big money is potentially at stake, and there may be gender-based differences of opinion as to how it should be used.
I tried thinking of this on a micro scale, which is the easiest way for my poor limited brain to ponder such questions. Based on my own experience of men, and to make some utterly sweeping assumptions based on sexual stereotypes (!), supposing a married household received a sudden windfall – maybe a small lottery win. How might the husband choose to spend it? Maybe:
- a) new sports car
- b) set of golf clubs
- c) big party?
How might the wife choose to spend it? Maybe:
- a) new clothes for the children
- b) new clothes for herself
- c) a week in a health spa?
Now please don’t come down on me like a ton of bricks. I am not a girlie girl myself (you knew that) so I would be more likely to spend a lottery win on creating a foundation or buying a smallholding in the Outer Hebrides. And many men would no doubt choose to treat the children and/or the wife to something really special. But I think you get my gist. Men and women, although equally able and intelligent, have different priorities. And it is a fact of 21st century life that women, for whatever reasons, comprise far less than 50% of national decision-makers.
So I think the concept of a reference to gender has some merit. My true preference would be to see the issue remedied at its roots – by having fairer representation for ALL at the decision-making level, so that all issues were addressed by a truly representative body (and whether that government takes place at a national or sub-national level is a question for another day, another blog).
But change on that scale is not going to happen in the next 2 weeks. So for now what is the best way to go? I’d like to throw this open to debate. Do you agree that there should be a specific reference to gender in any climate treaty? Are there any other under-represented groups who should also be specifically mentioned (maybe indigenous peoples)? Is there an opportunity here to set a precedent for future international treaties?
First meeting today was with Frans Jacobi, a visual artist from Copenhagen. He is starting an exploration of the field of activism surrounding the COP15 in Copenhagen. He will be blogging about this here. Each person he speaks with is then supposed to send him on to another person and this ‘chain’ will be the itinerary for his exploration. The blog and this trip will form a part of his PhD: ‘Aesthetics of Resistance’. So we had a very interesting chat and I then passed him along to Polly Higgins. Watch that space!
This evening I went to a Rotary Club presentation by a British explorer – the magnificently named Ripley Davenport. The evening ended with dinner at the Radisson Blu. I sat between two guys from Shelterbox, who know my friend Sally Kettle, veteran of 3 Atlantic rows. Her final row was with the Rowgirls in 2005, the same year I rowed the Atlantic, and they were raising funds for Shelterbox. A very worthwhile cause, and I have volunteered to join their Shelterbox Response Team to help deploy their aid boxes to disaster zones. As extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity, these life support boxes and the response teams will become even more vitally important, and I’d love the chance to help on the practical level as well as the inspirational level.