Can women save the planet? A new report shows the way


Caroline Hartnell


Global Greengrants Fund (GGF) executive director Terry Odendahl believes women will save the planet – but not without equal rights and in concert with men. But we haven’t got much time, so how can we help them to do this? A new report, Climate Justice and Women’s Rights: A guide to supporting grassroots women’s action, launched in London on 20 March, shows funders the way.

Picture two rivers, said Claudia Bollwinkel of Filia die Fraenstiftung, one representing the environmental movement, the other the women’s rights movement. Both rivers support important social change work but they don’t really meet or exchange ideas.

Research clearly shows that women throughout the world are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by a changing climate – particularly in countries with marked gender inequality. But women are not just vulnerable: they have lots of ideas – it is women leaders who are defending forests, water and other resources, and helping their communities adapt to the changing climate. But women’s voices aren’t being heard in climate change policy discussions.

Men receive far greater resources for climate-related initiatives because they tend to wage larger-scale, more public efforts, whereas women’s advocacy is typically locally based and less visible. Only 0.01 per cent of worldwide grant dollars support projects that address both climate change and women’s rights.

Most funders lack adequate programmes or systems to support grassroots women and their climate change solutions. They simply don’t know how to do it. The new guide provides evidence to show how effective funding at the intersection of climate change and women’s rights is, and offers concrete, practical guidance on how to do it. It draws lessons from specific examples of funding for women’s climate change initiatives; provides guidance on how funders can collaborate; and highlights the impact that small (less than $10,000) to medium-sized ($10,000-$50,000) grants can have.

Mary Robinson, present at the launch, welcomed the Guide. ‘We need to trust women to know what they need,’ she said – which is why one of the Mary Robinson Foundation’s seven Principles of Climate Justice is ‘Highlight Gender Equality and Equity’. Women know what problems they face and give leadership in communities, she said. We need to support women, both those working at a grassroots level and those working at policy level. The Guide gives examples and principles that can help funders to do this.

The Guide emerged from the Summit on Women and Climate, held in Bali in August 2014, which aimed to start to bring Claudia Bollwinkel’s two rivers together and to build relationships and improve collaboration between environmental and women’s funders. The ultimate goals were to increase funding for women’s climate change initiatives and to amplify grassroots women’s voices in shaping donor agendas.

How can we bridge the gap between grassroots and policy level? One suggestion that came out of the meeting was to include grassroots women in delegations to UN meetings. Danielle Hirsch of Both Ends talked about the UN’s Green Climate Fund, to be distributed through governments. This is a big opportunity to influence how a very large fund is used, she said, but it will be vital to support local organizations in preparing proposals. This is something that GGF plans to do.

One barrier to funding is lack of data. Six years ago GGF had no stats on women and the environment, said Terry Odendahl; gender was not a lens – though half of GGF advisers were women. Since they have started keeping track, funding for women-led initiatives and initiatives affecting women has increased from 20 per cent to 40 per cent – a figure she would like to see rise to at least 50 per cent. If goals aren’t set and progress measured, progress isn’t made.

Several speakers emphasized the importance of engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While Goal 13 is specifically about climate change, 12 of the 17 SDGs are ‘heavy on climate’. The key point here is that the SDGs come into effect in January 2015, while the new international climate agreement to be adopted at the Paris climate conference in December 2015 will be implemented only from 2020.

The London meeting marked another significant milestone: it was the first meeting hosted by GGF UK and Europe. Stephen Pittam, chair of the newly formed GGF organization, said he had been at the Bali conference and came away feeling hopeful. The new guide can be seen as a concrete way of translating hope into action.

Caroline Hartnell is editor of Alliance.

Tagged in: Empowering women

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *