Climate Justice and Gender Equality: the meeting with WEDO

The Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) is a global women’s advocacy organization based in New York. It is engaged in the field of human rights, women’s rights, gender equality and the integrity of the environment in international policies. The acronym contains the initial letters of the name of the organization ‘Women’s Environment & Development Organization’, which in itself draws attention to issues concerning the environment and sustainable development, the organization’s main areas of interest and action. In the commonly-adopted logo of the organisation the letters appear on two lines (“WE / DO”), thereby conveying a clear reference to its commitment in these fields.

At the COP21 summit, held in Paris in December 2015, the organization was engaged, among many things on the various fronts of the Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice, a global campaign organized collectively by a group of regionally diverse women’s rights and feminist organizations, brought together by the urgent need for just action on climate change. Staff members of WEDO involved in supporting the campaign include two young feminists: Juliana Vélez, a women’s rights advocate, and Majandra Rodriguez Acha, an activist committed to promoting the concept of climate justice among young people.

Juliana Vélez, 26 years old, is originally from Colombia. She received a Masters in Science degree in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance with a Gender Studies specialization from New York University. Her interest in international development has led her to work for several non-governmental organizations. Since 2015 she has been a consultant of the Peace and Security division of UN Women and has carried on research on the relationship between climate change and the condition and status of women. Following this experience she realized that she could use knowledge acquired during her studies also in the environmental field. After joining the WEDO organization as an Advocacy Project Associate, she helped coordinate the Mobilizing Women for Climate Justice Project, an initiative aimed at mobilizing women within the framework of the Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice, and during this endeavour she met Majandra Rodriguez Acha.

Majandra Rodriguez Acha, 26, who is from Peru, graduated in Anthropology, Sociology and Sustainable Development and at Swartmore College in Philadelphia, USA. A social and political activist, Majandra has great experience in the management of educational projects in the field of discrimination, youth empowerment and sustainable development. Her interest in gender equality linked to environmental issues in fact stems from her own personal experience. As a South American woman, she has clearly seen how gender roles are deeply rooted in society, defining and influencing every human relationship. The same occurs in our relationship with the natural world; the terms of our relationship with the environment are imposed by society and in the current situation it is clear that there is something amiss in the foundations of this principle. These personal reflections came to fruition in 2013 with the founding of TierrActiva Peru, a volunteer-led collective and national network of the Peruvian youth movement for the climate. The organization later joined the Global Call coordinated by WEDO, and Majandra supported the campaign with advocacy activities and media coverage.

When they were asked what they think about the outcome of COP21, a common feeling became apparent; the international community feels that the final agreement is a diplomatic success, but civil society in general is certainly not celebrating the results.

For Juliana “the agreement is a step forward but the text of the treaty remains weak in terms of climate justice, with a lack in strong language on human rights and indigenous people’s rights. There is a lot left to do!”

The concept of climate justice stems from the objective consideration that those most affected by climate change are the people who have done nothing at all to damage the environment. Logic would thus dictate that greater support should be afforded to these people, allowing them to participate in collective efforts to reverse the trend, but this is not happening.

The term “climate justice” suggests a profound connection between environmental and social issues, making it very clear that implementation of the principle requires an integration of human rights in environmental policies. Juliana insists on this topic, suggesting that “the agreement is weak because several aspects of human rights haven’t been taken into account, like the rights of women and girls from frontline communities are not being taken into account. Moving forward their rights must be ensured.”

Majandra expresses an incisive opinion with regard to this point too, stating that “it seems as if human rights and related principles were mentioned to engender and ensure a degree of formal satisfaction on the part of those who insisted on their inclusion. Basically, then, not much has changed. For example, although initially envisaged within the Treaty across the board, in the binding part of the final text gender equality is mentioned only in articles 7 (adaptation action) and 11 (capacity building), remaining entirely excluded from the most incisive areas (climate finance, mitigation). So, this may be seen as a generic principle and it is not known whether and how it will be put implemented.”

Both women state that that we are continuing to adopt a mental approach that is obsolete. “A system that permits an abusive exploitation of natural resources is a system that creates social and economic disparity. There is no priority-scale or hierarchy existing between these issues. When it is finally accepted that everything is connected, we will become stronger and there will be increasing unity between movements, which will allow us to really intervene and change things,” says Majandra. “The crucial point now is to intensify activism and advocacy. It is all the more imperative that the public become involved and express their opinions, informing governments that climate change must be one of their priorities. Activism is a very important instrument, especially during elections. Intensifying the pressure at the national level, it will become possible for governments to consider an increase in its commitment before the end of the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. We no longer have any time to lose.” We are already reflecting on the COP22 summit, which will be held at Marrakesh in Morocco in November 2016.

Chiara Soletti

Published for Italian Climate Network on the association’s website.