Women’s voices must be the loudest on matters of climate, governance and societal violence

No society can develop — economically, politically or socially — when half of its population is marginalised.

Published - December 04, 2017 12:25 am IST

 Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson

The world faces many major challenges, from climate change to armed conflict, massive displacement of people, the rise of the far-right and violence within our societies. These require urgent attention and action but none of these pressing issues can be adequately addressed without first facing up to the issue of gender inequality. No society can develop — economically, politically or socially — when half of its population is marginalised.

In the face of such worries, women and men must share responsibility for determining their futures and be enabled to realise equal roles in building peaceful communities that are resilient in the face of climate change. Women are not equally represented at decision making tables, their voices are not heard and they do not have equal participation in creating policy, despite evidence that involving women in decision making and governance leads to more open and inclusive policies.

There sadly exists a belief that women do not deserve equal treatment and failure to address it is one of the major barriers to progress and prosperity. If women are not equally represented and issues affecting them are not adequately addressed, it has impacts for wider society.

But empowering women, both politically and economically, leads to poverty eradication and wider economic growth. According to a report by McKinsey , advancing women’s equality could add U.S.$12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

Women are massively impacted by some of the world’s most pressing ills. Gender-based violence remains a major human rights issue globally, particularly in areas of conflict. Cultural values and societal norms play into how this issue is dealt with and all too often societies turn a blind eye, with families and societies falling apart.

But women are not just victims in conflict, they are powerful agents for change. They have important roles to play in conflict resolution and peacebuilding and their contribution can bring about change in societies, communities and homes. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 which outlines the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and the importance of equal participation in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

All too often governance and decision making is not gender responsive. Consequently, policy implemented does not reflect the needs of all citizens. Targeted approaches are required to ensure all women have a voice in the formulation of decisions that impact their lives. This would allow for women’s voices to be heard and for policy to not only ensure their needs are met, but also that they have an active role in building better and healthier societies.

For women’s voices to be heard, their participation is vital. It is crucial to hear from those feeling the impacts of global challenges such as gender-based violence and those on the front-lines of the impacts of climate change. An important element of this is to strengthen women’s leadership roles in order to facilitate more gender responsive action and policy. These major challenges cannot be addressed adequately without addressing inequalities in leadership and governance.

All over the world there are inspiring examples of women who are taking action and bringing positive change to their communities and societies and breaking down the barriers of gender inequality. On a visit to Ethiopia several years ago I met with a group of remarkable women leaders who were striving to build peace in Sudan and South Sudan. Traditionally women had been sidelined but these women wanted to be at the negotiating table and were striving to bring justice to victims of sexual violence in conflict zones and to mentor the next generation of African leaders.

This too can be seen in the area of climate change. The Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice amplifies the voices of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Women on the ground are the ones who are feeling the impacts but they also play an important role in ensuring that climate action is effective. We work to ensure the participation of women, especially those at the grassroots level in international fora. To realise the “leave no-one behind” approach called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the commitment “to reach the furthest behind first”, grassroots women must be recognised as key actors in global sustainable development.

A world underpinned by gender equality will be a better world. All women must be empowered to realise their full and equal rights as this will contribute to society as a whole. Amplifying women’s voices and increasing their leadership and influence is essential to achieving democracy, good governance, environmental sustainability and peace.

Women are the keys to ensuring effective solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the world today and need representation in all decision making processes. The future of our planet and the peacefulness of our communities depend on it. After all, women’s rights are human rights.

The writer is p resident of the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice.

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