Woman drought at UN climate talks: are quotas the answer?

Quotas could create a critical mass of women at climate negotiations and drive change

The UN climate talks are dominated by men (Pic: UNFCCC)

Women are in a minority at UN climate talks (Pic: UNFCCC)

Women make up half the global population. Yet at the last count, they held less than a quarter of positions on UN climate committees.

Of the 5,090 people from all over the world at the Doha summit in 2012, 29.4% were female. Among lead negotiators, the figure is lower.

With world leaders set to agree a climate deal in Paris next year, time is running out to influence the outcome. It is widely acknowledged women bear the brunt of climate change and have a valuable perspective to bring to the talks. So how do we make sure women’s voices are heard?

Tasneem Essop, lead climate policy advocate at WWF, argues quotas could be part of the solution.

It is generally accepted that for any real transformation to happen in society one needs a critical mass of those needing change to drive this. They must be represented in decision-making structures.

In the context of gender equity and ensuring that women are at the center of decision-making on sustainable development and climate change, a quota system is useful.

Having one woman or a few women in leadership positions will not automatically result in change for all women. There are enough case studies to show this.

Such a quota system has to also reflect the real differences that exist among women, such as class and geography. Women do not and will not experience the impacts of climate change in the same way.

Poor women will bear a different burden and are likely to be more vulnerable than wealthy women for example. Women’s material conditions and socio-economic status will influence their views on how to deal with climate change. There is not necessarily a common perspective among all women about all matters related to climate change.

A quota system for women is therefore not enough. It will only be successful if it also gives women who are poor and working class a strong voice.
Those who are from the global South and are most marginalised must be represented.

To conclude: a quota for women would help create the critical mass required to drive change. It will not in itself result in real and meaningful change for all women if it does not also factor in the existing power relations among women as well.

We’d like to hear what you think. Are quotas part of the answer?

Does the UN need to take affirmative action to boost the number of women involved at the UN talks?

Or are there other steps the process can take to rebalance the negotiations?

You can use the comments form below, or tweet us using the hashtag #climatefrontline

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