The first event I attended was all about the role that states, governments, IGOs and NGOs have to increase education about reproductive health as well as sexually transmitted disease, however an even stronger current in this panel was about finance and increasing the amount of money that women contribute to their household as well as have access to - mainly by microfunds.
Monique (last name missed), Founder of the Women's Parliament Forum and 1st presidential nominee in Suriname recalls the state's obligation and missed opportunities to support women, citing some 8 international treaties relating to women's rights and reproductive health and safety. Calling on the need address issues of infant and maternal mortality as well as family planning by integrating the resources at hand by the state along with the knowledge of NGOs more knowledgeable of women's needs. Relevance to climate change? Monique describes how Suriname had flooding of its interior rivers for the first time, while supplies were being sent the women of the communities contacted women's organizations to obtain more useful supplies for preventing disease, etc. It was these same women who were responsible for relocating the villages to higher elevations.
Judy Fink of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) brings girls and young women to developing countries such as Zambia to exchange knowledge of lifestyles but also to foster a peer relationship among women to empower them to make smart decisions regarding pregnancy and STDs.
Lucy R (lastname not taken) of the United Nations Development Programme sought to apply the issues of women's empowerment on a mainstream, programmatic level. She noted that 70% of the poor were women and saw that as the "low hanging fruit" to give women empowerment: representation in and access to financing projects. This would give women more power in how money is spent since it is usually sought in areas where women do most of the work such as provisioning of resources (food, water, fuel, etc.).
The next two panelists were men. One from the Ecological Christian Association spoke about how gender issues were not only women's issues. Saying that poverty creates weak family members who become more and more marginally productive, created an equation of sorts: weakness + poverty = marginalized & powerless. He noted that NAPAs don’t include any kind of finances for family planning. Listen to Izak from the Ecological Christian Association makes the case for women, gender, and health issues to be at the heart of all political decsiosns made here at COP16
The final panelist from the Population and Environmental Health Ethiopia Consortium spoke of on going successful projects in Ethiopia aimed at increasing community cohesion and strengthening women’s role in decision-making. The integration approach gave women money for contributing services such as tending apiaries and gardens as well as provisioning other important household resources to the point where the women were contributing equally to household finances with men, which increased their reproductive sovereignty and decision making. Increasing community cohesion allowed for multiple households in the community to contribute equally to several sectors thus reducing the requirements from each household. This gave community members, especially women, extra free time which they spent pursuing local politics or other interests.
The final example reminds me of the permaculture principle “multiple elements for a single function”. This sort of redundancy has been found extensively in natural ecosystems and contributes to the resilience the ecosystem in times of disturbance. I find it very fascinating to find permaculture principles at work in areas not relating to growing food, to see human communities applying lessons learnt from nature is very encouraging.
The entire side event was a fascinating look into an area I seldom learn about in my studies at Cornell and helped me to keep in mind the larger picture what the earth and humans are facing. I was uplifted by strides made in places with historically wide gender equality gaps. However, I was left with a nagging feeling, why is it that we seek to “raise” the women up to level of the man – especially with money as her proof of worth. Instead (or, simultaneously), shouldn’t we be teaching men to value the non-commoditized services that women contribute. It has eerie parallels to discussions of REDD and Payments for Ecosystem Services (covered next). Is our way forward guaranteed by the powers of commerce, which is arguably the force that brought us to this mess? Or, should we be divesting from the capitalist model of valuation and instead experience the benefits of the women (and the earth) not by how rich in money they make us, but by how rich in life we are because of them?