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There can be no sustainable future without gender equality

Women equality

Millions of people are experiencing the severe impacts of climate change, through unprecedented extreme weather episodes and more frequent disasters. According to the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hoesung Lee, its latest report, released last week, “is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.”

Climate change has a particularly devastating effect on women, who constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources which climate change threatens the most. This is even more pronounced in rural areas as it threatens already insecure incomes, pushing millions into poverty and driving internal and international migration.

The impacts of climate change are compounded by socioeconomic crises, including the consequences of the continued COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls around the world, including in our region, are disproportionately experiencing the confluence of these crises, which add up to persistent forms of discrimination. These include worsening employment conditions and growing gender-based violence at home during the pandemic, and persistent income inequalities since women dominate in low-paid sectors, are more prone to have part-time jobs and to engage in precarious work. But women are also crucial to finding solutions to these challenges.

Gender equality is a prerequisite to meeting our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As captured under the motto for this year’s International Women’s Day, we need “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. The Secretary-General’s push for gender equality at all levels of the United Nations, including the Executive Secretaries of the five Regional Commissions, is an inspiration for all of us.

At UNECE, achieving gender equality and empowering women for sustainable development has been one of our priorities for many years, in line with the vision of the Beijing Platform for Action. At the Regional Beijing+25 review meeting, we called for mainstreaming gender in policies on climate change adaptation and environmental protection. This means ensuring financial and institutional support for gender equality, building expertise, developing strong policy directives and establishing focal points on gender and climate change across government institutions in all countries, and advancing women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related to renewable energy, climate change action and the green economy. This also means closing the gender pay gap which has remained at some 20% in monthly earnings in most of the countries in the region for the past 10 years.

Indeed, harnessing women’s full contribution to shaping solutions to tackle the climate crisis is crucial, and I am proud that UNECE is supporting practical steps for gender equality in the development of standards, with the release of new guidelines for standards bodies.

The knowledge we generate through UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews includes countries’ assessment of progress in reconciling their environmental and economic targets, including the gender equality dimension. To support countries’ capacity to reflect gender in their environmental policies, we organise training and develop guidelines. Our recent work in the Western Balkans and Serbia is supporting countries’ concrete efforts at national and local level. Special attention is paid to the role of specific stakeholder groups, including women and youth in activities related to water allocation in a transboundary context. 

We must also recognise the important role of women in the area of energy for sustainable development. Our expert group on resource management places a special focus on women’s contribution to advancing towards Net Zero in the energy sector. We’re also working with countries to tap the significant potential for women-led Micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises to contribute to natural resource management, which can be a key foundation for the circular economy transition we need for a sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

Women in the region play an outsize role in the provision of care.  During periods of shocks and crises, this is of particular significance.   In these efforts, they need stronger support from governments, academia, civil society and international organisations. Our work on women’s economic empowerment and the care economy shows that integrating the gender and care dimensions in  economic and social policies is critical to building resilience against crises and ensuring sustainable development for all.

As we face the defining issue of our time, we must step up for gender equality and act together with all women and girls if we want to succeed in the shift towards a more inclusive and green economy, preserving our planet for future generations.

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