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Gender equality in climate policy and fashion’s role in COP26

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

The effects of climate change disproportionately impact women, and women play a fundamental role in our fight against it.

The fashion industry, where the majority of people making our clothes are female while executive leadership roles are still mostly chaired by men, has a colossal impact on the climate too. But despite making up half of the world’s population, women are being denied participation in urgent climate policy discussions that could transform the fashion system.

Later this year, the UK will host COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). These climate change talks will set the agenda for the future of climate action, but currently, the top of the UK COP26 leadership team is dominated by 75% men. In response, She Changes Climate is campaigning to ensure that we get fair and equal representation of women on the UK leadership team for COP26 by fighting for a #5050Vision; a balance of women and men at the top level of the COP26 leadership team.

In December 2020, the group sent an open letter to the UK Government, calling on them for greater accountability and transparency on male/female parity on the UK COP26 leadership team. The letter has been supported by over 400 female environmental leaders.

“The struggle for climate justice is also the struggle for racial, gender, sexual and economic justice. The gendered impacts of climate change mean we must ensure an equal balance between men and women at all levels, especially within the COP26 senior management team. It is difficult to see how the current predominantly male-led COP26 team will ensure that women’s voices and needs are heard.” – Farhana Yamin, Founder Track 0, Climate Lawyer.

“The climate crisis is a leadership crisis. Research shows that women are vital voices and agents of change for this planet, but we’re too often missing from the proverbial table. More than a problem of bias, this sets us up for failure. To turn away from the brink and move toward a life-giving future for all, we must have true and equal representation.” – Katharine K. Wilkinson, Climate Strategist, Teacher, Author: All We Can Save.

The speeches and deliberations at COP26 affect women when it comes to climate change because many of the solutions are very likely to not include women's perspectives.

Climate justice means an inclusive representation of all parties that will be affected by climate change. This includes the global ethnic majority, many of which are missing from the table today. In particular, it affects the most vulnerable people in society – women are often from the lower-income groups and pushes them into even more precarious socio-economic situations.

We have seen in recent years that nature-based solutions or indigenous wisdom, which have been marginalized in favor of expensive shiny technological solutions in the past, are very robust in preventing or mitigating the effects of climate change. The underrepresentation of women and diversity has played a major role in embarking on this path. Only 40 of the 196 delegations at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference were chaired by women. This needs to change now.

Without leadership diversity, we are looking at this crisis through a very narrow window.

In my view, intersectionality is the cornerstone of all climate change solutions. Our current climate crisis is also a product of social and racial injustice and exploitation. We don't need to do much research to uncover the historical layers of systemic injustice that led to where we are today. And all this underscores the vital importance that women in all their diversity need to be listened to and sought after proactively.

There are many issues that are overlooked on the COP26 agenda. After all, many of the materials used in the fashion industry require massive use of water and natural resources. Research shows that women tend to take a more holistic approach in areas where they are responsible, such as careful water resource management or planting a variety of crops for overall soil health. Women are better at enforcing protection rules. All this may seem small and insignificant, but on a global scale, these are fundamental steps we all need to take right now.

In addition, not to forget the impact of synthetic fabrics made from fossil fuels, which are a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, from extraction refinery to production, transportation, and ultimately to landfills where much of cheap fast-fashion ends.

This is an overlooked link between fossil fuels and the fashion industry. That's why I think everyone who supports the 50:50 vision should also press for fashion and its impact on the climate to be included in the COP26 agenda.

The biggest achievement of She Changes Climate is probably in its title: As women, we can all be part of changing the climate crisis. Talk, tell your friends and family and join us.

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