Enhancing Mechanisms to Protect Women’s Human Rights and Promote Gender Equality in the Context of Climate Change

"One of my pledges as an International Gender Champion has been to create platforms and space for the voices of women and girls from Barbados and the Caribbean to highlight their views and priorities. This is why I am delighted that to commemorate International Women’s Day 2024 we can hear the wise words of Professor V. Eudine Barriteau."

Ambassador Matthew Wilson, Permanent Representative of Barbados the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva

Enhancing Mechanisms to Protect Women’s Human Rights and Promote Gender Equality in the Context of Climate Change

By: V. Eudine Barriteau

The theme of this year’s International Women's Day is to "Invest in women: accelerate progress."  As we commemorate the multiple roles that women play in societies and address the alarming lack of financing for gender equality, we need to also place a spotlight on one of the greatest existential threats to gender equality: the climate crisis. We need to better recognise and reflect the intersectionality of women’s rights and climate and the transformative role that women can play as part of the solution if their experiences and expertise were better reflected. 

The multiple, interlocking vulnerabilities women endure during climate crises, constrain their ability to exercise control over decisions governing their lives. 

These climate crises circumscribe states’ abilities to ensure access to a wide range of services and resources needed to overcome gender inequality and mitigate these crises. Not only are Small Island Developing States (SIDS) disproportionately affected by climate change, the existing international financial rules and institutions are insufficiently responsive to the far-reaching fiscal impacts of these disasters.  

By focusing on the differing economic realities of SIDS, and the disproportionate penalties women endure from rapid climate change, the recommendations of the Bridgetown Initiative offers an overarching framework that fairly takes account of and seeks to redress the inequalities between countries. A more equitable access to finance for development, as well as for crisis response, also facilitates advancing the three principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which are:

  1. Equality and non-discrimination,

  2. Participation and empowerment, 

  3. Accountability and access to justice. 

Protecting and promoting women’s human rights constitute the core purpose of CEDAW. This Convention applies to all states, regardless of development status and is relevant to responding to climate change, disaster response and prevention. For example, CEDAW’s General Recommendation No. 37 (2018) emphasises the urgency of mitigating the adverse effects of climate change disasters and offers to State Parties actions to reduce gender related risks arising in climate disasters. This General Recommendation delineates the steps necessary to achieve gender equality, and recognises that attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, (especially goals 3-6, 10, 11 and 13), is made more difficult when existing gender inequalities are exacerbated by climate crises.

With the Bridgetown Initiative, on behalf of all developing states, the Barbados Government has proposed reforms to the international financial architecture. It includes proposals targeting G20 Creditor countries, UN member states, Multilateral Development Banks, and the multilateral UN system. The six main proposals are:

  1. Provide immediate liquidity support;

  2. Restore debt sustainability;

  3. Mobilise private sector investment;

  4. Increase official public sector development lending for SDGs;

  5. Ensure that the multilateral trading system supports green and just transformation;

  6. Reform the governance and operations of International Financial Institutions (IFIs).

Significantly, the Bridgetown Initiative recommends restoring debt sustainability by having public, multilateral and private creditors “adopt zero-cost, net-present-value neutral natural disaster clauses in all lending instruments to make them more shock absorbing.” (GOB 2023) The proposals also include an integrated development and resilience strategy towards achieving the SDGs.

These reforms complement the mandate of CEDAW since the Bridgetown Initiative also outlines strategies that would benefit all UN Members, particularly Small Island Developing States, towards mitigating climate vulnerabilities and enhancing women’s human rights. 

The reforms would contribute to empowering women and girls in the context of climate vulnerabilities. Reformed and reimagined operations and governance of international Financial Institutions could deepen dimensions within SIDS to respond to climate crises, and strengthen State Parties’ capacities to:

  • Advance the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly since Goals 5, 10 and 13 intersect with all others;

  • Unleash resources to support expanding political, economic and social participation of women;

  • Improve access to basic, specialised and advanced education;

  • Expand access to health care.

The proposed reforms offer SIDS additional mechanisms to relieve the debilitating effects of climate disasters. These proposals can create financial relief for State Parties to deploy funding to areas where climate crises disproportionately affect women. Such funding would otherwise have had to address debt financing and disaster relief. 

The Bridgetown Initiative supports CEDAW’s General Recommendation No. 37 and its gender specific actions to protect women’s human rights, expand their decision making, reduce the impact of disaster related risks, and thus enhance the quality of women’s lives.  Combined, these strategies strive to realise the interlocking Sustainable Development Goals, especially achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls and would enhance the visibility, voice and inclusion of women’s priorities as we seek to address the climate crisis.