Women’s Land Rights Are Necessary to Build Climate-Resilient Futures

A woman farmer in Nepal with the Joint Programme for Rural Women Farmers. (UN Women / Flickr)

COP 26, the UN Conference on Climate, ended last Friday, after world leaders made several collective pledges to the climate crisis on issues like deforestation, methane emissions, coal and more. But few discussions at COP 26 accurately addressed or focused on the gendered aspect of climate change, say specialists and activists at Landesa and other global land rights organizations.

“Despite the huge impact of agriculture on emissions, and the huge potential of land use for both mitigation and adaptation, it still receives far too little attention; and gender is consistently given minimal attention or altogether left out in conversations about agriculture and land use planning and management in particular, relative to climate conversations overall,” Beth Roberts, the director of Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights, told Ms. 

Women have not only been left out of important conversations and looked down upon, but are frequently seen as property, says Roberts. “One of the questions we often hear, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, when we are talking about women’s land rights is: Why should my property own property?”

Roberts says gender equality is central to climate change, not only because women make up half of the world population, but also because they are often the ones managing natural resources and most engaged in traditional and medicinal knowledge sources of ecological systems.

Although the representation at COP 26 has improved over the years through the implementation of a day of discussions around gender equality and climate action, advocates at Landesa see a gap in who is being included and what kinds of problems are being addressed.

“While it’s been really encouraging to see more funding and more attention [on the issue of gender equality and climate action] … for too long, we’ve been seeing things in neat separate buckets of women’s empowerment for the sake of women’s empowerment and then climate change is often seen as only an environmental issue,” Rachel McMonagle, the climate change and land tenure specialist at Landesa, told Ms.

Climate change shouldn’t take a gender-blind approach, says McMonagle. “Events and resources that are focused on gender rather than seeing it as more of an integrated and necessary component of any policy, decision or deliberation will still be falling short on really advancing gender considerations to the place they need to be,” Instead, as a society, we must look at climate change in a “more holistic solution that touches on the … environmental, social and economic impacts.” 

Where COP 26 Missed the Mark

COP 26 made some headway in addressing the climate crisis, including commitments from the U.S. and China to cut emissions to below 2 degrees Celsius with the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and a pledge from world leaders reduce methane emissions by 30 percent and end deforestation by 2030. But advocates at Landesa say many issues were left unaddressed.

“Adequate commitments are still lacking funding for adaptation and loss and damage,” Roberts said. “This will disproportionately affect women and girls in the least developed countries.” 

Roberts also said Article 6 “lacks language on human rights (independent grievance mechanism, and free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous Peoples groups), despite calls from key constituencies.”

McMonagle and Roberts say questions remain as to who is benefitting and who was included when resolutions or pledges were being made. 

“We’re often seeing that Indigenous communities and these local communities are not being included at the table when these commitments are being drafted up. So it’s on one hand, this incredible opportunity. On the other hand, it just raises a lot of questions around accountability and particularly in thinking of that flow of finance or funding and who is receiving it and and are women able to access that?” said McMonagle.

“When we look at carbon markets or payment for ecosystem services, the key question is often: Who is the land holder?” she continued. “And who is doing these activities that typically women are being excluded from—due to not having land rights in that capacity?”

Women’s Participation in Discussions Around Climate Change Are Necessary to Mitigating Effects

On November 5, Landesa held a side event to COP 26, “Women’s Land Rights as a Tool for Building Climate Resilient Food Systems.” 

“We wanted to highlight a few different climate resilient food systems, and so we had speakers talking about farming forest communities and pastoralist issues. As you can imagine, climate change is affecting each of those livelihoods very differently in those communities very differently,” said McMonagle.

The speakers at the event included Mueni Mutinda, public policy advisor on climate change at Canadian Foodgrains Bank; Faith Alubbe at Kenya Land Alliance; and Sara Omi Casama from the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. The overarching theme of the discussion revolved around how women’s participation in discussions around climate change are necessary to mitigating its effects.

“If we are not all at the table, there is no way we are going to be able to solve the issues that we face,” said Mutinda. “We all have something to contribute.”

Speakers discussed the way in which wealthy nations are continuing to break promises and not make radical enough changes for the good of the environment and its inhabitants. One example from Mutinda was the pledge of $100 billion from wealthy nations to developing countries to combat the effects of climate change. However, according to a recent report, the money will most likely come three years later than promised.

The future of climate change is worrying, especially when wealthy nations aren’t doing their part and women aren’t being adequately included in discussions.

Ultimately, “we have to stop what we’re doing that is hurting mother earth. … We can exist and the planet can exist. There doesn’t have to be one or the other,” said Mutinda. “I think we know what we need to do. We have the resources to do it. We need to find the will to do it and the time is now to act.”

To watch Landesa’s side event click here. To learn more about how land rights and climate justice are intertwined, head here for Landesa’s new micro-site.

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Juliet Schulman-Hall is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a senior at Smith College. She is majoring in English language & literature, minoring in sociology, and concentrating in poetry. Her beats include America's health care system, disability, global politics and climate change, and criminal justice reform and abolition. Follow her @jschulmanhall