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Taking climate action for and with women

By Laurent Fabius

2015 will be a decisive year for our planet: in December in Paris, the COP21 will aim to reach a universal agreement that enables us to limit global warming to two degrees. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I would like to emphasize an important point: by promoting gender equality, we can contribute to the success of these negotiations, and vice versa – a successful COP21 would help to reduce gender inequalities.

Why? Firstly, women are the primary victims of climate change, for it is poor communities who are the most vulnerable and suffer the worst of its impacts, and women make up 70% of those in poverty throughout the world. As a result, they are, and will continue to be, the most heavily affected.

According to the UN, when a natural disaster strikes a region, the risk of death is 14 times higher for women, mainly because they are not targeted as a priority by disaster warning and prevention programmes.

Climate change also increases the number of constraints on women, who are responsible, in many regions, for providing food, water and fuel for their families. The effects of climate change on soil fertility, the availability of water, and therefore food security in developing countries, place greater pressure on women. Another worrying fact is that these constraints result in too much household work, which often leads to girls dropping out of school.

The conclusion is simple: combating climate change means fighting for women’s rights.

As the primary victims of climate change, women are also often the main source of solutions. As development experts highlight, a programme designed without taking women into account is less effective than the same programme planned with them. The same logic applies to climate change initiatives, which also count as development programmes. In Rwanda, the programme set up by UN Women five years ago, which seeks to promote the participation of women in fifteen cooperatives in the Kirehe District, has led to a marked increase in crop yields and the spreading of climate-smart production techniques.

Another concrete example is the Kenyan reforestation campaign launched by Wangari Maathai, with the support of her country’s inhabitants; she became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize and showed the importance of women’s role in the transition towards more sustainable development.

In light of these facts, one thing is certain: women must be placed at the heart of national and local climate strategies and at the heart of international climate negotiations.

As the future president of COP21 in Paris, I will ensure this. The climate battle must be fought for, and with, women.

[The author is French Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development]

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