“We have to make sure we make this right, because there is no second chance” – gender and climate change expert and advisor


Luisa Emilia Reyes Zúñiga. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Luisa Emilia Reyes Zúñiga is Programme Director of Equality and Sustainable Development Policies and Budgets, with the Mexican NGO Equidad de Género (Gender Equity). An expert on gender-responsive public policies, budgets and development, including comprehensive disaster risk management and climate change, she has trained governmental and UN officials and played an active role in advocating for gender equality during several international negotiations, including Rio+20, CSW, the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and COP. She speaks to UN Women about the challenges she has faced in her advocacy and her hopes for the upcoming climate agreement, to be forged in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties. She will attend as an advisor for the Mexican delegation.

Why should we look at climate change from a gender perspective?

Climate change has a differentiated impact on women and men due to structural inequalities and the sexual division of labour. Climate change is also a window through which existing inequalities are maximized, enhancing the interrelation of different forms of discrimination that women face around the world; that is to say, the multiple discrimination that arises from the intersection of gender, class, race, age, geographical condition, and other elements, increase the negative impact that climate change may have. In a world in which the concentration of wealth has concerning social and environmental impacts, we need to start looking at structural solutions: climate change is a phenomenon originating in the failure of our current model of development, based on ‘extractivism’ and a predatory relationship between humankind and its surroundings, but also related to our unequal and discriminating society. Due to unpaid domestic and care work, women subsidize the economy and are the ones who least participate in those sectors that are the largest carbon emitters, such as energy, transport or extractive industries.

What challenges have you faced in discussing or positioning gender in climate change negotiations and in your advocacy around women’s role?

The advocacy work faces many challenges, mostly because the linkages between climate change and gender are not evident to many people, but also because it raises resistance to promoting structural changes. When you advocate for gender equality you have to point to the structural causes of the problems, such as the subsidy that women provide to our current societies through the unpaid domestic and care work they perform, but also the exploitation they face while largely receiving the impacts of climate change. There is a resistance to recognizing the responsibility our current societies have in reinforcing inequalities, because that would mean putting a halt to promoting an economic model that privileges the circulation of goods and capital in a neo-colonial dynamic rather than promoting the well-being of people.

What gender-related outcomes to you hope to see in the universal agreement to be reached in Paris?

It is important that the entire agreement recognizes the human rights framework, gender equality and sustainability criteria as operative principles for every future action. Furthermore, the decision and the outcome of the workstream 2 (the one addressing the 2020 emissions gap) needs to abide by these principles as well. A gender-related outcome is also to recognize that we should end this economic model based on unsustainable modes of production and consumption, stop privileging the market over human rights, the concentration of wealth over justice, a fossil-fuel economy and an ‘extractivist’ model over a healthy planet. The three dimensions of sustainable development (social, economic and environmental) are intertwined, so any injustice in any of those will have an impact on the system as a whole. Climate change is endangering life and our planet, and that is why the challenge is systemic. There is no shortcut. We have to make sure we make this right, because there is no second chance.