Celebrating International Women’s Day in the context of the climate crisis

We recognize the contribution of women and girls around the world who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all. Photo - UNDP Samoa

In the Pacific, we know all too well the ramifications of climate change. It is part of our daily lived reality.

Frequent natural disasters like cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes continue to wreak havoc on already fragile natural environments. Health crises, like COVID-19 and the measles epidemic, have sent island economies reeling, causing socio-economic setbacks, more especially for women and girls. A case in point is the imposition of the State of Emergency in March 2020, where case management data from the Samoa Victim Support Group shows that between March and May, reported domestic violence cases increased by 48%. Cases reported include sexual, emotional, physical and verbal abuse. Women also lost sources of their livelihoods from the tourism sector and informal sector among others. Countries are still trying to recover and rebuild better for sustainable development.

This is a region where most countries are always one disaster away from being back at square one, in almost every aspect of development.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year under the theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, we recognize the contribution of women and girls around the world who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all. We acknowledge why this is so critical now more than ever.

Gender equality is simply the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities that both women and men, and boys and girls, should enjoy. However, around the globe, there has been glaring evidence of gender inequality in the fight against climate change. Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources which climate change threatens the most.

Yet women around the globe have demonstrated their contribution in the fight against climate change by being at the forefront of climate change action, transforming lives and livelihoods and increasing climate resilience and adaptation. They have been powerful agents of change and leaders in their communities and on a global scale, continuing to make increasing and impactful contributions to sustainable development, despite existing structural and sociocultural barriers.

It is imperative that we continue to seek opportunities, and examine the constraints, to empower women and girls to have a voice and be equal players in decision-making related to climate change and sustainability, which is essential for sustainable development and greater gender equality. Without gender equality and equity today, a sustainable and equal future, remains beyond our reach.

At the UNDP Multi-Country (MCO) Samoa, we are committed to putting women front and centre of our development efforts. Our programmes and projects are gender responsive. We have demonstrated positive investments in ensuring programmes and projects apply gender analysis and integrate gender, specifically for COVID-19 recovery projects, thereby ensuring vulnerable groups of women are prioritized as Samoa builds back better. This has been demonstrated by the CERO Waste (Circular Economy for the Recovery of Waste) Project which has enhanced progress in women’s meaningful participation and contribution to the waste sector. Glass recovery is implemented by a women-led non-government organization, the Samoa Recycling and Waste Management Association (SRWMA), achieving 50:50 gender parity in employment, including a female supervisor. Fifty five percent of the Youth Incubator Programme are young women compared to 45% men. In Tokelau, 100% of waste management officers hired per atoll are women. The initiative absorbed unemployed youth, with 87.5% of the employed being youth, and gender parity being achieved. Seventy five percent of women are youth with disabilities. Tokelau’s national waste management workforce has increased by 300%, and 100% of waste management officers employed are female.

This commitment is further highlighted in the Samoa MCO Country Programme Document, which prioritizes gender equality and women’s empowerment, and provides substantive and intersectional analysis on youth and gender, particularly in the areas of employment and economic empowerment, democratic governance, and women’s political participation.

This IWD, we would like to renew our commitment to recognize and enable the contribution of women in the four countries that we serve – Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau – who are leading the charge on the blue economy, and climate change adaptation and mitigation, to build a more sustainable future for all.

Women play a critical role in the blue economy, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and responding to the climate crisis. UNDP will continue to work with other United Nations agencies, and government and non-government organizations to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment in the climate, nature, energy, and blue economy nexus of development pathways.

This is even more critical considering the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Report which the UN Secretary General has labeled as an “atlas of human suffering” referring to the dire situation the world now finds itself in.

The Report presents a stark warning about the impact of climate change on people and the planet, saying that ecosystem collapse, species extinction, deadly heatwaves and floods are among the "unavoidable multiple climate hazards” the world will face over the next two decades due to global warming.

In light of this, it is pivotal that gender equality continues to take centre stage in our programmes and projects as there can be no genuine sustainable development without it. We must strive to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment continue to influence, shape and drive our collective climate actions and human development effort.