By Mayor Joy Belmonte, Mayor Ada Colau and Alexandra Palt

Big, bold and fast climate action has never been more needed than today.

But in order to make this happen, the changes have to take into account everyone. To be effective, climate action has to be just and to be just, climate action needs to be inclusive of women.

The hazards linked to global warming exacerbate existing discriminations and have a greater impact on vulnerable populations, women in particular. This is the case now more than ever, as the gender gap widens. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021 shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women far more severely than men, leading to a step back of 36 years in the fight to close the gender gap.

Addressing the twin challenges of climate change and inherent inequalities, such as the many facets of the gender gap, must be a priority. Gender, together with other aspects of identity, shapes the lives, opportunities and experiences of people across the globe. It also influences vulnerability to climate impacts. Women and girls face disproportionately high health risks from the effects of climate change and they make up 80% of people displaced by climate change.

Women are among the groups most impacted by climate-related events, not because they are naturally more vulnerable, but because they are subject to inherent forms of discrimination and marginalisation in society.

However, despite being the most vulnerable to climate impacts, women are also in a unique position to mitigate the crisis, with a place at the forefront of climate solutions and action. It was women who guided the reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, and are women heading the resilience-building efforts in Freetown. It is also women who are leading the largest global youth movement against climate change. In the words of Christiana Figueres, an internationally recognised climate leader, women easily step up to act as environmental stewards and spearhead radical collaboration.

Copenhagen Youth activists during C40 World Mayors Summit 2019
© Sarah Bastin / C40
No one is more equipped to speak up for women and address their unique disadvantages than women themselves.

For the climate transition to be just, we need gender considerations to be mainstreamed across climate actions, and we need to ensure that the desires and perspectives of women burst into every space of the climate debate and of climate negotiations.

This starts by making gender a cross-cutting issue and embedding it in city departments and throughout the government. Barcelona is an example of a city that has led the way by imbuing a robust gender perspective into its climate plan and has increased the number of women leading key city departments.

© 2016-2020 Plan for Gender Justice Barcelona City Council

In terms of climate actions to benefit its citizens, Barcelona is working on growing women’s participation in the design of walking and cycling projects, creation of ‘Superblocks’, or initiatives that protect residents from heat waves. For example, the city ran a training programme for care staff who work with the elderly and vulnerable, a traditionally feminised sector. The programme trained women on the dangers of extreme heat to elderly citizens, and the knowledge gained also helped to improve the women’s own working environments.

Crucially, these actions are all facilitated by innovative sex-disaggregated data collection that allows the city to understand women’s needs and behaviour better.

Similarly, in Quezon City, a Gender and Development Council Office was created to provide technical support to the city administration, mainstream gender, and promote budgeting that responds to women issues.

Quezon City, Philippines
© Nikki Bonuel / GettyImages

The city is also taking actions to increase women’s opportunities and their resilience in the face of climate change. Through the programme, No Woman Left Behind, women are provided access to healthcare and education while the Grow QC programme supports women in establishing urban farms that help generate income and increase food security, particularly in light of the enhanced challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other cities in the C40 network are also taking bold actions to ensure that women are the beneficiaries of climate actions.

Through their climate projects, Quito and Bogotá aim to increase access to green and good quality jobs for women. In Quito, the AGRUPAR project turned urban agriculture into a source of revenue for the participants, mainly women, while Bogotá created over 2,000 new operations jobs in its local bus rapid transit system, and prioritised employing women and people from vulnerable social groups.

Cities are also actively taking actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through prioritising women in low-carbon and equitable mobility and urban planning solutions. Lima, for example, is targeting women in its cycling campaigns, while São Paulo is engaging with women in redesigning and implementing the bike path plans to ensure their safety needs are met.

Sydney and San Francisco have studied women’s mobility patterns to establish how to increase cycling uptake, while Melbourne looked at participatory solutions to make women feel safe in parks in order to fully reap the benefits of access to urban nature.

US: A family in the park on a sunny day. A mother and son cycling on a path.
© Mint Images – Tim Robbins / Getty Images

Gender-responsive participatory planning ensures that resources serve the community effectively and holistically while harnessing local knowledge and local priorities to maximise resource effectiveness in climate planning.

In the C40 global network of mayors, thanks to the support of the Fondation L’Oréal, 18 cities have already launched the Women4Climate mentorship programme that supports and enhances women’s leadership in all sectors, creating a powerful global community of over 600 women engaged in solving the climate crisis. As part of this work, C40 will develop a platform for women city decision-makers and local women leaders to increase their capacity to embed gender at the heart of their work and co-create gender-just solutions.

The transformative change is here but, beyond political ambitions and commitment, we need integrated approaches that bring national and city governments, the private sector, philanthropy and civil society together.

We need to create bold solutions that put women and other marginalised and frontline communities in leadership positions and bring their unique perspectives and experiences.

November saw the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, the most important climate negotiation of the decade. COP26 provided an opportunity for national governments to step up and meet their municipal counterparts, civil society and businesses at this level, and, crucially, to follow their lead in embedding equity, inclusiveness and gender perspectives into climate action.

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