Speech: Empowering women through the sustainable management of natural resources

Remarks by Åsa Regnér, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the high-level breakfast event on Adapting to Climate Change - Empowering women through the sustainable management of natural resources: Women as agents of change in tackling interlinked challenges related to climate change – sustainable land use, resilience and human security


Excellencies, distinguished delegates, dear friends,

I thank the governments of Finland, Costa Rica, and Tanzania and the UNCCD, Green Climate Fund, and WMO for co-sponsoring this high-level event with UN Women.

I also thank my fellow panelists and H.E. Ms. Anne-Mari Virolainen of Finland and H.E. Dr Augustine P. Mahiga of Tanzania for their keynote remarks.

Two days ago, in his address to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General focused on two things, one of which, in his words, is the “existential threat of climate change.” In his most important address of the year, he prioritized climate change because evidence shows that indeed, climate change is the test of our generation, and the challenge of this century.

The impacts of climate change, including on access to productive and natural resources, amplify existing gender inequalities.

Climate change affects women’s and men’s assets and well-being differently—in terms of agricultural production, food security, health, water and energy resources, climate-induced migration and conflict, and climate-related natural disasters.

In many contexts women’s dependence on and unequal access to land, water, and other resources and productive assets—compounded by limited mobility and decision-making power—mean that they are disproportionately affected by climate change.

In addition, women and girls typically carry the largest burden of unpaid care and domestic work, which only increases in a changing climate.

For example, often women often have primary responsibility for water and fuel provisioning.Thus climate-induced drought and scarcity affect the time and level of effort required to collect, secure, distribute and store this resource.

Yet, it is important to recognize more than the vulnerabilities, the critical role women play as powerful change agents to address climate change at scale.

Women are key actors in building community resilience and responding to climate-related disasters.

They tend to make decisions about resource use and investments in the interest and welfare of their children, families, and communities.

Women as economic and political actors influence policies and institutions towards greater provision of public goods, such as energy, water and sanitation, and social infrastructure, which tend to matter more to women and support climate resilience and disaster preparedness.

As women are so deeply interconnected to their communities, they have a different perspective of the land they often work and of their own needs as well as those of their families and communities, their voice in decision and policy making is imperative for lasting, sustainable development.

As UN Women, we have consistently stressed the importance of systematically addressing gender gaps in responding to climate change as one of the most effective mechanisms to build the climate resilience of households, communities and nations.

From the intergovernmental point of view, the international community, in endorsing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, underscored that gender equality and women’s empowerment are indispensable to the realization of all the SDGs. The Paris Agreement called on Parties to consider human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment in all climate actions.

This is a clear recognition that environmental actions and responses can only be sustainable and just if they take gender equality and human rights into account. We cannot talk about natural resources conservation without tackling the issue of women’s access to land and other resources or water management or disaster preparedness without considering women’s rights and their well-being.

As a result of our collective effort, all three Rio Conventions (UN-Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention to Combat Desertification, Convention on Biodiversity) have specific gender action plans to guide their processes. Two of the important international climate finance mechanisms—the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environmental Facility has specific gender policies which guide not only their work, but also the development and implementation of the programmes and projects supported by these mechanisms.

Another key contribution is our UN Women report, ‘Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, that tracks progress in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from a gender perspective.

An examination of climate-relevant SDGs—SDG 13 on climate action, SDG 14 on life below water and SDG 15 on life on land—reveals that statistics on the gender effects of climate change as well as management of natural resources on which women’s livelihoods heavily depend, are largely missing.

The report stresses that improved sex-disaggregated data on asset ownership and use of environmentally friendly technologies needs to be given high priority in monitoring efforts to better understand women’s needs and promote women’s agency in climate action.

From the perspective of our ground action, UN Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access & Protection in Crisis Response (LEAP) programme promotes resilience-building and empowering women and girls for a holistic gender- responsive humanitarian response. Also, UN Women’s Flagship Programme Initiatives ‘Women’s empowerment through climate-smart agriculture’ and ‘women’s entrepreneurship for sustainable energy’, focus on implementing gender-responsive solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

A concrete example of our programme work is a joint programme by UN Women and the Government of Côte d'Ivoire in the shea sector that provides a climate-smart solution to reducing deforestation, while bolstering rural women’s economic empowerment.

In Côte d'Ivoire, women make up almost 70 per cent of the agricultural labour force, but only 3 per cent of women own the land that they cultivate. The country also ranks as the fifth largest producer of shea butter, extracted from the nuts of the African shea tree and widely used in cosmetics. Producing shea butter is largely seen as women’s job, and it’s a hard job.

Since the traditional method used to produce shea butter is labour-intensive and the resulting product doesn’t meet international quality standards, the profit margin is low. This is compounded by rising deforestation, a major threat to the sector.

Since October 2017, UN Women has trained women cooperatives in better manufacturing practices, and has improved the equipment in shea butter production facilities so that the products meet competitive standards.It also provides financing and market access for women in the shea sector.

Because of the initial success of the programme, women working in the shea sector have been granted community lands which have improved their status in their house and society.

Let me end by emphasizing that we cannot have a discussion on climate change without addressing the deeply rooted inequalities that exist for half of the world’s population.

Just as we cannot have discussions on how to respond to climate change or disasters in communities, without ensuring that women have a seat at the table.

Climate change is the challenge of our time, and it is our responsibility to create resilient communities that are able not only to bounce back from disaster, and to do so in a way that ensures inequalities are not heightened, and everyone has an equal voice in the sustainable future of their communities.

Thank you.