Mr. Robert Glasser, head of UNISDR (right), chats with Mr. Stéphane Dion, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs (left), after the session on gender, climate change and disaster risk reduction (Photo: UNISDR)
By Jonathan Fowler
GENEVA, 1 March 2016 – Policymakers working to rein in the impact of climate change and natural hazards must keep the issue of gender squarely in the spotlight, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Stéphane Dion told a United Nations meeting today.
“Climate change does not affect women and men in the same way, and has a gender-differentiated impact,” Mr. Dion said at a diplomatic session organized by Canada on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council.
“It is important to apply gender analysis to meet specific needs of women and men when mitigating the effects of climate change,” he added.
Over 100 million people are affected by disasters every year, with extreme weather and climate-related events accounting for 90 percent of natural hazards.
Women and girls suffer a disproportionate impact, given that gender inequalities can constrain their influence and control over decisions governing their lives as well as their access to resources, sidelining them from risk reduction planning.
“Vulnerability is constructed socially,” underlined Ms. Nahla Haidar, who heads the disasters and climate change team at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Mr. Dion spoke alongside a string of senior officials who also pressed for a rights-based approach to policymaking on climate change, including Mr. Robert Glasser, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
“Women and girls have a fundamental role in designing solutions to the problems that they and their communities face in a variety of contexts,” said Mr. Glasser, whose organization’s global parliamentary advocates have included Canada’s Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.
Mr. Glasser underlined that the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year blueprint adopted by the international community in March 2015, puts a strong emphasis on the importance of gender equality.
The Sendai Framework has seven targets. It aims to bring about substantial reductions in disaster deaths, the number of affected people and economic losses, plus damage to critical infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and educational facilities. It also seeks to increase the number of countries with national and local risk reduction strategies, bolster the capacity of developing countries, and vastly increase coverage by early warning systems.
Achieving those aims will be compromised, however, if gender issues are not factored in from the start.
The shortfalls can be revealed by disasters such as Cyclone Winston, which left Fiji reeling last month.
“Existing inequalities come to the fore,” Fiji’s UN Ambassador Ms. Nazhat Shameem Khan told the meeting. “If women are not partners in resilience building, then the aftermath of a disaster is going to exacerbate this.”