Women Are Needed in Spaces Where Decisions Are Being Made  

By Rene Marker-Katz

Climate change is ingrained in much of the work being done through the lens of urban planning, policy initiative, and other sectors influential at the human scale. While the web of climate adaptation has recently become embedded within the core of urban planning, it is crucial to address the continued lack of gender diversity in spaces where decisions are made. 

This lack of women’s representation was amplified at the recent climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022. While there were many tickets on the docket for climate policy implementation, there was a notably stark contrast in the identities of activists on the front line and Member States at the head of negotiations. Through a lens of community engagement, activism, gender equality, and leadership, we still have a long way to go. 

A COP27 Recap 

In 1995, an annual event was drawn through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty seeking to combat the negative impacts of climate change caused by human interference. What is now popularly known as COP, the Conference of the Parties was ratified by 198 countries known as the Parties to the Convention where their 27th annual meeting (COP27) was held this year in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The overall goals of COP conventions are to track progress on global emissions reductions and to redraw international policy negotiations on climate adaptation and carbon neutrality. 

There has been a lot of buzz going around post-COP27 about the pattern of excluding women from negotiation processes. An organization that tracks women’s participation at major negotiating meetings of the UNFCCC called Women’s Environmental Development Organization (WEDO) has reported that while numbers have increased on women’s participation in negotiations at COP from 30 to 38 percent between 2009 and 2021, these numbers still reflect unequal participation among genders. A BBC report commented on the absence of women leaders attending COP27. Out of 110 leaders present, only 7 were women. 

This report touches on the harmful trends where women bear a disproportional burden within negative impacts of climate change. The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of climate refugees are women. In a sector where women are marginalized in terms of participation in leadership and negotiation processes yet are one of the groups most directly impacted by climate-related disasters, there is a harsh divide between those in power and those affected. What are the costs of excluding women from spaces where decisions are being made? What can be gained from their inclusion? 

Women-led Activism at COP27  

Another takeaway from COP27 was the prominence of women-led activism in the sphere of reparations in the form of “Loss and Damage”. This year, for the first time, negotiations concluded in an agreement to create the funding protocol, facilitating a reparations accord addressing the impacts of colonialism and the disproportional climate impacts on exploited countries that have been felt by the people who are experiencing compounding climate-related disasters such as drought, floods, and food and water insecurity. While this groundbreaking agreement was advocated for most vocally by women activists, there is a stark contrast in the lack of representation of women from the leaders of negotiations. Critically, while the loss and damage agreement outlined the importance of creating a funding protocol for disaster-impacted underserved countries, it did not create a concrete outline for how much funding or a timeline on when those funds would be distributed. 

Climate change permeates nearly every professional sector to exist in public relations, and the urban planning field will particularly require a more robust and inclusive protocol to facilitate roles for women to be more represented in spaces where decisions are being made. Indigenous women are particularly crucial to participation and negotiation in the climate sphere as Indigenous groups protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. As planners facilitate approaches to clean up brownfields and limit future pollution, contain urban sprawl for the sake of ecological conservation, and weave practices of sustainability into the fabric of contemporary urban planning, it is crucial that there is conscious inclusion of indigenous practices to ensure the relationship between humans and the land is sustained.  

Women in Urban Planning 

Interestingly, the rate of women participating at COP27 and the percentage of women in the urban planning field are nearly identical. Zippia’s 2019 report shows that women in urban planning peak at a mere 34.5 percent. Similarly, the BBC reports that women made up less than 34 percent of country negotiating teams at COP27. As urban planning shifts to incorporate more community engagement, social justice, activism, and inclusion, what do these numbers say about the current regard for women’s roles in leadership? 

Inclusivity is far more than allowing a foot in the door to certain sectors, it is about the continual and deliberate creation of opportunities that give diverse identities access to positions of influence. The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) reports that when women’s participation in politics increases by 5 percent, a country is almost five times less likely to respond to an international crisis with violence. It also reports that women in leadership are more likely to cross party lines to find solutions than their male counterparts. In the time sensitive era of combating the effects of climate change, women’s participation promotes bipartisanship, equality, and stability. Similarly, within the sphere of urban planning, there needs to be a more inclusive distribution of power across positions to provide a more diverse set of practices in a field that is notoriously white-washed and male-dominated. 

A Path Forward 

While it is recognized that women are underrepresented in positions of leadership at all governance levels, there are incremental ways that this shift of power can begin to better reflect the communities it works within. One way would be for those currently in power, namely men, to take conscientious action in creating mentorships for women in positions of leadership. Consider who is being sent to represent an organization or government. Put women in rooms where negotiations are being held, because a diversity of influence will bring a diversity of ideas that can incite positive change for the future.  

Rene is a graduate student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) pursuing a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, specializing in land use and environmental planning, accompanied by a Natural Hazards Resilience certificate. She is currently working as an Associate Researcher with the UNC Water Institute Re-Energize DR3 team to strengthen the relationship between governance and private/public entities, to better support vulnerable community groups through climate-related disasters. Follow more of her work on LinkedIn and on Instagram @oneforallplanning

Edited by Candela Cerpa

Featured Image: Loss and Damage Protest at COP27, November 2022 by Jamie Cummings (@climatejamjam on Twitter)

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