COP22: Securing equal rights for women on paper is not enough

by: Bindu Bhandari

An estimated 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty and 750 million work in agriculture as smallholder family members. Women farmers not only produce food, they are responsible for raising their children, caring for the sick, cooking, cleaning, and collecting water and firewood. Climate change increases the burden of women at all levels. Yet they are the least equipped to adapt their farming practices to climate change.

The reason? Rural women have less access and control than men over key assets, such as capital, agricultural information and training, lands and resources related to agricultural production. While they are disproportionately exposed to climate risks, social norms restrict the entitlements of women to participate in decision-making regarding climate change. Often because of poverty and dogmas, there are huge gaps between male and female educational access and literacy levels which affect later the participation of women. Because of longstanding gender discrimination, women do not have access to land in developing countries. Most of the time, they live and work on land that is owned by their fathers or husbands and have no legal claim to it

Last November, world leaders gathered in Marrakesh at COP22 to participate in the climate talks. As human rights advocates, we think it is imperative that negotiators turn their attention to rural women and focus on policies that increase their ability to cope with climate change. But are they on track to meet women’s needs? Significant progress has been made at the international level with negotiations and constituencies to address the gender equity and support the agricultural sector and the associated elements of finance, technology transfer and capacity building. But what matters is the efficacy and effectiveness of such decisions and interventions.

The challenge lies in meeting the growing demand while offsetting the emissions from the agricultural value chain. Acknowledging the contribution of women in agriculture and recognizing their role in ensuring the food security, it is urgent that our plans, programs, and policies in agriculture be gender- responsive and climate- adaptive. Investing in, empowering and including women of least developed and vulnerable countries actively in all levels of decision making would boost up their access to resources and services, thus consequently accelerating our long term goal of sustainability. It is thus, crucial that no one is left behind in this common but differentiated responsibility, also a common but differentiated opportunity.

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