In this podcast, Ambassador Rabab Fatima talks about her engagement in the new IGC Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women (IGROW), answers why the climate-gender nexus is imperative, and shares words of inspiration on how to ensure a women-friendly working environment.
INTGenderChampions · Women, Oceans and Climate Change – A Podcast with Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh to New York)
Hello and welcome to this International Gender Champions mini-podcast. I am Fleur Heyworth from the International Gender Champions Secretariat in Geneva and today, I am delighted to speak to Gender Champion Ambassador Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York. Ambassador Fatima is also President of the UN Women Executive Board, Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, and a recent contributor to the launch of the IGC Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women, also known as IGROW.
This Impact Group was recently launched in the lead-up to the 2022 UN Ocean Conference that took place from the 27th of June to the 1st of July in Lisbon, Portugal. The Impact Group is being co-led by the International Seabed Authority with Secretary-General Michael Lodge, and Ambassador Tōnē of Tonga. It also has the support of the Foreign Minister of Tonga, Her Excellency Fekita ‘Utoikamanu, who is also an alumna of the IGC, and the President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, His Excellency Abdulla Shahid, as well as several New York-based fellow Champions. The aims of the Impact Group are to firstly ensure strategic visibility of gender issues in the field of ocean affairs, secondly to design and implement targeted capacity-building initiatives and programmes, and finally to increase women's empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research and international law.
So welcome, Ambassador Fatima, and thank you very much for taking the time to record this podcast. We really appreciate you taking part in the launch of this new Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women. And I'm curious to understand why you find this Impact Group so important? What motivated you to actively engage in the issue of women and oceans?
Ambassador Rabab Fatima:
Thank you, Fleur, thank you very much for the very kind introduction. First of all, I would like to thank the International Gender Champions for inviting me to this virtual interaction. It was an honour to join the IGC group. So thank you very much for having me.
You're most welcome. You have a particular interest in women and oceans research, leadership and governance affairs, and I'm really curious to understand a bit more about what's bringing you to this issue.
Ambassador Rabab Fatima:
Thank you very much. I would like to congratulate you for bringing the issue of the Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women into the discussion. You know it and I think it is well-known that women are evidently underrepresented in ocean affairs. According to UNESCO and other researchers, women account for only about 38% of the world's researchers in ocean science, and the rate is even lower for women from developing countries. On the other hand, women are disproportionately impacted by ocean warming, compared to men. This is principally due to their unequal access to resources for resilience against those damages. I come from a country that is seriously vulnerable to climate change. I have seen women on the frontline of the battle against climate change. And in many cases, women's underrepresentation is not attributable to the lack of ability to contribute at all. It is rather gendered stereotypes and social barriers that contribute to women's underrepresentation in ocean affairs. In that context, I believe that the launch of the Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women, IGROW, is extremely timely. As an avowed lifelong advocate of women's empowerment and gender equality, I was delighted to join the Group and to make my small contribution to increasing the visibility of women in ocean affairs. And I definitely think that the International Gender Champions network deserves our commendation for this initiative. In my current capacity as a Permanent Representative to the International Seabed Authority, I have stressed the imperative to have more women in ocean research, and I'm so happy to see that they are taking initiatives to do that. Also, as the President of the UN Women Executive Board, I advocate more broadly for women's participation without discrimination or hindrance in all sectors, including oceans of course.
Thank you so much. This advocacy, and these targeted actions, as you highlight, are absolutely needed, but we also know that gender equality is a systemic challenge that we have to address. Turning to the broader topic of climate change, which is so urgent and is on so many minds, some people may question whether we need to spend precious time and resources on systemic challenges like gender inequality when climate change has so many other aspects to it. What's your answer to this?
Ambassador Rabab Fatima:
Thank you, Fleur. I think this is an extremely pertinent question. Climate change and gender equality are interlinked. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change. Existing data shows that, for instance, 80% of the people displaced by climate change and related disasters are women and girls. And yet, they are also the earliest responders when disaster strikes and in the fight against climate change. For years, women in every community, especially in indigenous and smaller communities, have developed knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to the changing climate and environmental impacts. Women also have an intimate relationship with nature, as we have seen in many pieces of research and through the ages. The IPCC Working Group's 6th Assessment Report shows that women are not only victims of climate change, but also proactive adaptation actors. We see practical examples of that everywhere. Again, I can say, from my own country, or you know, many of the smaller island countries - other countries which are hugely impacted by disasters and climate - that it is women who are at the forefront of many of these actions. Thus, unleashing fully their knowledge and capability can suddenly unlock many effective and practical ways and means to climate change solutions for the benefit of all. Climate action, therefore, cannot be successful or sustainable if it does not involve women. I shall leave it there, Fleur.
Thank you so much. And highlighting that with how the empowerment of women and addressing inequality allows this kind of bottom-up approach, as well as with the top-down approach, we can really harness systemic change - and also tap into the wisdom that's been evolving over centuries as to how to live in harmony with nature, and to manage it.
Ambassador Rabab Fatima:
In that context, I was having a discussion with another expert on this topic yesterday. She mentioned that when we talk about climate and women, we also have to bring in the whole aspect of justice - justice for women - because they are the most impacted, but they are not getting the solutions or the help, support or even recognition of their contribution to climate action. So, I think that when we talk about climate action, we must talk about climate justice, especially as it relates to women and climate change.
Absolutely. Thank you. And you can see then how the links start developing with the care economy, with the different value being given to women's work in different spaces, and with many other aspects that UN Women are working on, with Generation Equality and beyond. So thank you so much for sharing that.
I have one final question, Ambassador. Many of our Champions have one outward-facing commitment and one inward-facing one. Yours, this year, is to ensure women-friendly working environment and infrastructure in the mission you lead. Could you please explain to us what this actually means and looks like for you, and if you have any advice for fellow Champions seeking to follow suit?
Ambassador Rabab Fatima:
Thank you very much, Fleur. I have to tell this story. When I joined the Foreign Service more than 30 years ago, there were only three other women, and they were all out on postings abroad. So I was the only woman there. On my first day in the Ministry, I had to go around looking for a restroom for myself. Here, as the PR, I can do and take action on many fronts. Although we are a big-sized Mission, we do not have many women. Nonetheless, I know the clear need for special places and special infrastructures for women. It can start from a proper restroom, a powder room, or - even though we do not have yet a lactating mother here - there could be more women coming in who would need a lactation room. Recently, the President of the General Assembly took the initiative to introduce eight or nine new lactation rooms around the UN General Assembly building. So that sort of specific catering to the specific needs of women, recognising that, in the first instance, we have a very male-centric environment. In my Mission of about thirty-five, there are six women, so having their special needs recognised and catered for. Having a powder room, especially in a separate prayer room, for instance. Right now, when women of our Mission pray, they have to wait until their male colleagues finish to go.
So, I think that adequate infrastructure is very important to cater to women's needs, but also very important symbolically, to show that there are women here, even if the number is small, and that their needs must be respected and recognised. As a woman PR and as the Head of the Office here, I very actively try to see that it is the case and that we have provisions for that. And I believe that it is the same thing that many of my other men counterparts, PRs, heads of missions, or of different organisations, will do, because it's extremely important that when a woman comes to work, she feels that she belongs there, that her needs are recognised. It is also empowering, and an empowered person, somebody who feels appreciated, whether it's a male or a female, is bound to perform better. So, I certainly feel that it should start from work. I would like to see that when any of my colleagues walk into the office in the morning, they look forward to the day. That comes from having the proper enabling environment, but also having the benefits and facilities that one requires, that a man can take for granted but that a woman has to fight for.
And, wherever I may be - here or in any other place, I will certainly go on, I will always be looking out to see that women's rights are recognised, even if it's one just for one woman in the office, and that they have an enabling and proper life, an equal environment to her male colleagues in the office.
Thank you, Ambassador, thank you so much for sharing your insights as a leader, both political and practical. It's been absolutely fascinating to speak to you. And I'd like to close with the quote that you've shared with us on the IGC website, which is that "Equal participation of all women and girls in every walk of life is an imperative, not a choice. All structural, social and legal barriers must be removed everywhere, not just in words, but in real action". You certainly live that quote today. So thank you so much, and we wish you every success in your future.