Women, indigenous rights are crucial to a climate agreement

THE issue of climate change has long ceased to be just an environmental issue. Climate change impacts people most. Climate change has become a serious threat to even the most basic fundamental human rights — right to life, right to shelter, right to food, right to security.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, some current and projected impacts of climate change on human rights include: 50 million more people being at risk of hunger by 2020 and an additional 132 million people by 2050, crop yields could fall by 30% in Central and South Asia by 2050, between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa are likely to face greater water stress by 2020, and the risk of dengue fever is estimated to reach 3.5 billion people by 2085.

The Philippines is one of the countries who have been pushing for a strong human rights language in climate negotiations. This is not surprising given the impacts of climate change in the climate-vulnerable country. Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and displaced more than four million.

“People are affected most by climate change. This is no longer just about countries, this is about human beings,” said Tony La Vina, Philippine negotiator.

But not all countries are supportive of the language. In the Bonn ADP negotiations last September, Saudi Arabia blocked the language, proposing it be deleted in the text. In the last round of negotiations before Paris last October, more countries seemed to be supportive of human rights being included in the text but some countries were still doubtful about it.

Asked whether human rights is sure to be included in the final agreement, La Vina says he is hopeful. “We pushed for it in Lima and only a few countries supported it then but now it has caught fire. There will still be attempts to block it but we hope it survives,” he said.

Gender rights

But the Philippines does not only support human rights in general, it also strongly pushes for gender rights and indigenous people’s rights in the climate negotiations. Women and indigenous peoples are sectors that are seen as more vulnerable to climate change impacts because of restrictions to their adaptive capacities.

In rural areas in the Philippines, women have little to zero income. They mostly stay at home to take care of their children, dependent on their husbands. This lack of economic freedom has had consequences when typhoons come. Staying inside the house where there is no television or radio means less information about incoming typhoons. Without economic power, women cannot think for themselves including deciding when to evacuate. Their economic dependence translates to higher vulnerability to disasters and climate change impacts.

In an interview with Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women, Collantes says that things we take for granted, such as the clothes women wear or how in some cultures girls are not taught to swim, affect women’s vulnerability to climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change. If we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population,” said Collantes.

UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri agrees. “It is so central, so real for women more than anyone else. There are already existing inequalities and discrimination of women that make them differently impacted,” she said.

Indigenous peoples’ rights

The indigenous community living in the villages of Mugu district in Nepal has been facing crop failure in recent years due to the change of rain pattern and land slides. Agriculture and medicinal herbs are their main source of livelihood but they are now forced to rely on other jobs such as wage labor and migration.

“Indigenous people are most vulnerable to climate change not only because their livelihood is directly bases on natural resources, forest and farming but also because of their lack of access to decision making at climate policy,” says Alina Saba, a young Limbu Indigenous woman from Nepal working with Asia Pacific Forum on Women Land and Development.

“This indigenous community also does not have better knowledge and resources to combat these climate change impacts which are becoming intense day by day and have surpassed their traditional knowledge bases in harmony with nature,” Saba adds.

According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, climate change is not simply about the environment where indigenous peoples live. It is a threat to their livelihoods, social life, and traditional knowledge and cultures.

Climate solutions from women and indigenous peoples

But it is also important to recognize that women and indigenous peoples are not just victims of climate change, they are active agents of change and have solutions in their hands, too.

“When we acknowledge that women have special skills and talents and harness that, they can make for effective climate action. We have to support and enable their participation and leadership,” said Lakshmi Puri.

Saba agrees with Puri. “Indigenous people have various traditional knowledge of farming, preserving food and seed, their knowledge should  be recognized and put into climate policy making or projects,” she said.

“Indigenous community can work better and best when climate policy and events are crafted that suits their culture, tradition and way of life, this will ensure their full and meaningful participation and this is how it should be done rather than implementing a model of climate change solution model designed by and for non-indigenous community,” Saba adds.

Women and indigenous peoples are more vulnerable to climate change because of their lack of participation in the community and in decision making processes. However, a climate change agreement that would ensure their active participation would make a difference and will empower these sectors.

The COP21 is expected to come up with a legally binding climate agreement. This climate agreement will mean nothing unless it includes half of the world’s population and our cultures and traditional knowledge.


This article was originally published at Asian Correspondent.