Gender Ministers support CARICOM’s positions for CSW 66

An iconic image of woman's anguish at the devastation Hurricane Dorian left in its wake when it struck The Bahamas in September 2019.
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(GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CARICOM Secretariat) – Ministers of Gender in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have sharpened and supported the Community’s positions as preparations heighten for the Sixty-Sixth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 66), which takes place at the United Nations Headquarters from 14-25 March 2022.

The meeting’s theme is: Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls in the Context of Climate Change, Environmental and Disaster Risk Reduction Policies and Programme.

Ministers of Gender Affairs and other stakeholders met virtually on 17 February 2022 to review and discuss the CARICOM Statement, which addresses perspectives on mainstreaming gender in disaster risk reduction policies and initiatives.

Speaking at the opening session of the meeting, Programme Manager for Culture and Community Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, Dr. Hilary Brown, bemoaned the absence of women from decision-making on climate change, and on COVID-19 recovery strategies.

She said it was important to ensure that gender inequality “does not serve as a barrier to the adaptive capacity and resilience of women, families and communities, and reduce options for climate change mitigation.”

Making a strong case for gender mainstreaming in Disaster Risk Management, Dr. Brown said increased participation of both men and women in managing natural resources, and in the design and implementation of early warning systems, will redound to more resilient societies.

CARICOM Gender Meeting ahead of CSW 66, held 17 February 2022.

Gender equality should also be reflected in the processes involving establishing shelters, coordinating relief distribution and in designing recovery plans during times of disasters, Dr. Brown stated. She urged concerted efforts in this regard by CARICOM Member States, UN Partners, academia, the private sector and civil society.

Caribbean Representative in UN Women’s Multi Country Office, Ms. Tonni Brodber, in her remarks explained the importance of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in promoting women’s rights.

It has been critical in “documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and empowerment of women,” she stated.

She agreed with Dr. Brown that women have been largely absent from critical decision-making on climate change. Compounding that phenomenon, was their lack of training on broader socio-economic, cultural and political issues necessary for them to negotiate and crave out a space for themselves, Ms. Brodber said.

Drawing attention to the international convention that advises countries on gender inclusive policies in Disaster Risk Management, she highlighted General Recommendation 37 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Committee watches over the progress women make in countries that are State parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Ms. Brodber said the adoption of gender inclusive policies on disasters should not be done from the viewpoint of seeing women and girls as passive vulnerable groups in need of protection. That perspective perpetuates a gender stereotype that fails to recognise the important contributions women are already making to disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, she said.

Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC) headquartered in Belize, Dr. Colin Young delivered the feature address at the meeting. He drew attention to the disproportionate impact climate change has on women, girls and other vulnerable groups. He said climate change will continue to “expose the many vulnerabilities that exist within our society,” if gender issues continue to be on the periphery.

He urged that climate finance cater for gender components that address “gendered vulnerabilities,” not simply as an “add on” but as a key outcome of the investment.

“Donors must insist that projects and programmes have clear gender indicators and sex-disaggregated data, and gender outcomes as a criteria to qualify for funding,” he said.

In this regard, he lauded the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund for making significant strides in adopting gender considerations as a key element in their investment portfolio.

At the same time, he said that donors should create simplified and targeted funding windows that will provide predictable finance to locally-led actions on gender and climate change. This can be done, he suggested, through greater partnerships with NGOs and women-led organisations, as well as by financing women entrepreneurship initiatives.

He agreed with Dr. Hilary Brown and Ms. Brodber in calling for increased women participation in climate change discussions and decision-making. Noting that donors could play an integral role in that, he said they must provide climate finance to amplify the voices and effective participation of women from the frontlines in national, regional and international climate change negotiations rather than in “side-events.”

In General Recommendation 37, CEDAW said, women suffer higher mortality rates, injuries, loss of property, increased gender-based violence, loss of income and limited access to the means of recovery from disasters. This is not because women are inherently vulnerable, but because they operate from a position of disadvantage relative to men, from the start.

“Disaster impacts also vary greatly between national contexts, types of disasters, and different communities, but gender inequality and differentiated gender roles in work and family are important risk factors, CEDAW noted.

Significantly, it pointed out, Disaster Risk Management itself, can perpetuate women’s vulnerability, if systems and processes are not gender-sensitive and inclusive of their differentiated needs and priorities.
CEDAW noted that too often, laws and policies on climate change and disasters fail to include women, and when they do, they are related to women’s reproductive role such as childbearing. While it is important to guarantee protection for women’s sexual and reproductive health, in Recommendation 37, CEDAW said there is an overarching need to address underlying gender inequalities and women’s empowerment, legislatively.

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