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Insights from COP19:
Women Play a Critical Role in Global Climate Crisis

The Rainforest Alliance’s climate team reports back from COP19, highlighting the increasingly crucial role of women in helping communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the old saying: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Today, in many parts of the world, women are getting out in front and playing crucial roles in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. Unfortunately, when it comes to one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century — combating climate change — women are too often left out of the conversation altogether.

At this year’s UNFCCC COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, discussions repeatedly emphasized the need to better engage women in actions to adapt to and mitigate climate change — and in particular, involve women in climate-smart agriculture. As the global population continues to grow (and with it the need to raise agricultural production 60 percent by 2050), the need for climate-smart agriculture has only become more urgent.

In its basic form, climate-smart agriculture is designed to achieve multiple sustainable development goals, including sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions where possible. Since women make up almost 50 percent of the global agricultural workforce affected by climate change impacts such as droughts, floods and other severe weather events, they must factor heavily in this conversation.

Many of the discussions and events at COP19 put gender issues front and center. The Global Landscapes Forum, for example, hosted the “Gender Café” to highlight the role of gender in farming, forestry and other land uses. November 19 was declared “Gender Day” with multiple events showcasing women’s roles in meeting climate challenges. And several speakers and panelists discussed the important role of women and included women in their debates. The Gold Standard included a gender expert in its advisory panel during a side event. And during ICRAF’S side event, panelist Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director for Hunger Solutions at the World Food Programme, emphasized that discussions on climate-smart agriculture must take care to include women, who produce 80 percent of the food consumed in Africa, saying: “When we go climate-smart, let us not go gender-foolish.”

At the Rainforest Alliance, we are committed to better engaging women. Over 100,000 local full-time workers on Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms are women. We have also trained women in climate-smart agricultural practices, through the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s Climate Module, which uses certification as a tool for encouraging farmers to implement measures that help build on-farm resiliency to climate change impacts. Additionally, we have engaged hundreds of female teachers and farmers across Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras in climate-change education workshops.

Through training and education, farmers learn about the measures they can take on their farms to better prepare themselves to adapt to climate change. Teachers learn how they can implement climate change education within their classrooms, using locally adapted climate curricula that enhance the ability of all students, regardless of gender, to understand climate science and the ways in which climate change affects them. We’re also noticing shifts in gender roles in some of the countries where we work, such as Nigeria, where the involvement of women as farm technicians and group administrators on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms is on the rise. And because the standards required for Rainforest Alliance certification prohibit gender discrimination and sexual harassment, women can feel safe and secure on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

Discussions at COP19 and the actions of NGOs and governments point to a growing recognition of the need to actively and legitimately engage women in all conversations, policies and activities surrounding climate change. There is undoubtedly more that needs to be done and we look forward to continuing to advance forestry and agricultural projects that are both climate-smart and gender-smart.


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