The lack of women leaders and champions in climate change-related activities and sectors, such as renewable energy and agriculture, could make it difficult for countries like the Philippines to make the just transition to a green and more sustainable future.
In the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Gender Forum 2023, the focus was on women leading climate action in Asia and the Pacific. ADB noted that there are two billion women in the region who have the ability to tip the scales in terms of creating sustainable solutions for countries, the region, and the world.
In her keynote address, the 2023 Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR) Leadership Awardee Shaila Shahid said climate change is a “planetary emergency” that cannot be ignored and women have a crucial role to play in fighting it.
“When we talk about gender inequality and climate change, these are not separate challenges, climate change is a threat to women. But the good news is and the hope is that two billion women and girls in this region can act as solution multipliers,” Shahid said.
She also noted that women have demonstrated wisdom and potential at the forefront of climate action. Women, she said are considered “first responders” given their “resilience and coping abilities in the face of natural disasters.”
“More often than not, women are still seen as victims or passive actors and rather than as critical stakeholders. This marginalization from planning, decision-making, and agenda-setting processes must end. Our aspirations for sustainable and resilient societies must be firmly rooted in a commitment to reducing inequalities,” she added.
ADB Southeast Asia Regional Department Director General Winfried Wicklein said the number of women and women leaders in sectors that are crucial in the fight against climate change are low.
Wicklein told reporters on Tuesday that at best, the proportion of women employees in sectors such as energy, only reached 30 to 40 percent. He said that this level is already the global average.
He admitted that this cannot change overnight. More needs to be done in terms of education to ensure that women are able to access opportunities in science and technology.
He said access to opportunities in science and technology as well as role models in the field are needed. Enrollment in science and technology courses or the pursuit of these degrees can pave the way for them to join industries linked to clean and renewable energy as well as technology which could be used for agriculture.
“Maybe (there’s a need for) scholarships, maybe leadership programs for women. And identifying role models in the energy sector, renewable energy sector of successful women leaders, (that can) inspire younger females to take up science and technology in college and university. So there’s a lot of things that can be done, but it just takes time and persistence and it has to start now,” Wicklein said.
During the forum, ADB Department of Communication and Knowledge Advisor Susann Roth noted that in ADB itself, only one of seven energy directors is a woman. She noted that ADB is trying to get more women to occupy senior positions.
Roth said this shows that even in international organizations, there is room for improvement in terms of increasing women’s participation and leadership roles in climate change-related activities and fields.
Wicklein said ADB is widening its talent pool and reaching out to more women who can be part of the Manila-based multilateral development bank. The ADB, which is positioning itself as the region’s climate bank, has not had a woman president since its foundation in 1966.
“We are actively looking at our recruitment practices, reaching out to women, reaching out to qualified women, but not a woman for the sake of (being) a woman, you call it tokenism, but really targeting women to come to join ADB (and) work with us and stay here. (Unfortunately,) they leave after two years. That doesn’t help also,” Wicklein said.
“So we really want to create a very well balanced workforce, but not only women also other ethnicity. We want to be balanced and you know, (welcome) all kinds of genders and however people identify themselves as,” he added.
In his opening remarks, ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said ADB is committed to creating opportunities for women to lead as part of their mission to provide $100 billion in climate financing by 2030 while supporting gender responsive climate financing.
Asakawa said this is crucial given that the Conference of Parties (COP) 28 is only a week away. The coming summit will include discussions that will demonstrate that women must be at the center of climate action.
He said supporting women as changemakers is essential to the region’s efforts to combat the ill effects of climate change. Women in the region, two billon-strong, he said, can be a postive force when it comes to climate action.
Image credits: AP/Peter Dejong