Sustainability is possible only if driven by women and girls, says UN Philippines chief on International Women's Day
09 March 2022
Mr. Gustavo Gonalez says, sustainability must be centered around and driven by women and girls
Message of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez, for the International Women’s Day Observance (Virtual), organized by the Philippine Commission on Women and UN Women, 8 March 2022
Last week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report. It contained a grim warning: “we are almost out of time to ensure a livable future for all.”
It stated that “a staggering 143 million people will likely be uprooted over the next 30 years by rising seas, drought, searing temperatures and other climate catastrophes.”
While this dark future awaits all of us if we don’t take urgent action, women and girls will surely and unjustifiably suffer the most. Why? Let me tell you.
In any situation of displacement, women and girls, are disproportionately affected because they are made more vulnerable by their gender and age. We have seen this in communities destroyed by Typhoon Odette, which left almost half a million girls in need of urgent assistance. Without homes, electricity and privacy, women and girls are unsafe and are extremely vulnerable to sexual attacks. During a disaster, including those brought on by climate change, pregnant women cannot access maternal health care and safe childbirth because hospitals are damaged and areas have strained healthcare systems.
In the near future, we will see more climate refugees and migrants. Besides being a way to adapt to climate change, migration will increasingly become a matter of survival rather than a choice. As a result, migration will likely become less safe, orderly and regular, with women becoming more vulnerable than before. Already, women are more likely than men to have their contracts terminated early and to fail to receive their final wage. They are also less likely than men to access services post-arrival.
The disproportionate impact of climate change is equally clear where women are already in a disadvantaged economic and social position. For instance, women-led households are more likely to be affected by climate-related food insecurity because they are more dependent on rainfed agriculture to feed their families. In the aftermath of natural disasters, women-led households face greater difficulties rebuilding their homes and accessing assistance, especially in-kind. We see this in the Philippines too.
Moreover, women farmers are less able than men to adapt to climate change because they have less access to adaptive resources, assets, information, services and decision-making power.
In the cities, which suffer the brunt of climate impacts like floods, landslides, and extreme heat, women and girls living there are most vulnerable to climate-induced disasters because they have unequal access to services and economic opportunities to recover.
Thus, the theme of this year’s observance of International Women’s Day is prescient: Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow.
In the same way that we cannot move successfully into the new normal unless our COVID-19 recovery is a feminist recovery—as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls it—we have no hope of surviving the severe impact of climate change unless women take charge, and unless women’s needs and circumstances are at the center of any strategy to head off the threats that are already in our horizon.
Strengthening the foundations of sustainable development is one of three priority areas for the UN in the Philippines through the Prosperity and Planet outcome area of the UN Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework for COVID-19 Recovery in the Philippines, which is the UN’s current roadmap for its work in the Philippines. Putting the country on a path to shared and sustained prosperity for all – for women and men – depends on how Philippines can anticipate and leverage the challenging convergency of climate change, natural hazards, economic growth and rapid urbanization. This calls for strategies that will reduce inequalities – gender inequalities, income inequalities, social inequalities – and achieve economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive.
For this, we need more women in leadership in government and business, including finance ministers and CEOs, developing and implementing green and socially progressive policies that benefit all their people. We need to listen to and support women human rights defenders, who are already at the forefront of diverse civil society movements to protect the environment.
Mr. Guterres has said that having more women in parliaments is linked with stronger climate commitments and higher levels of investment in healthcare and education.
Women are also in a unique position to reshape industrial development that is more harmonious with environmental protection goals. Women make up about one-third of the total global MSME sector, 70 to 80 percent in agriculture and one-third in manufacturing. We should harness women’s full potential to transform industrial development towards environmentally sound production, consumption and waste management practices. The UN is already assisting the Philippine government in this regard by building institutional capacities for the promotion of green resilient industries and through the adoption of cleaner production technologies, resource efficient methodologies, environmentally-sound waste management practices, recycling approaches, and energy transition strategies.
In agriculture, where the battle to ensure food security amidst hostile conditions wreaked by climate change is being fought all over the world, gender-specific climate change adaptation and mitigation requirements must be integrated in the design of climate change management interventions. Rural women should be empowered to adapt their production systems to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters through equal access to adaptive resources, assets, information, services and decision-making power.
In every aspect of our lives,when the world invests in expanding opportunities for women and girls, all of humanity wins.
Mr. Guterres said, “As a matter of justice, equality, morality and plain common sense, we need to turn the clock forward on women’s rights.”
In the context of the existential threat of climate change, the new normal we are striving towards will be sustainable only if it is centered around and driven by women and girls.