As CBI staff worked to ensure that all of the discussions at the event would include two cross-cutting themes — gender and climate change. In so doing, we uncovered an unsettling, though rather predictable dynamic: working climate change into the conversations would be easy; gender would be hard. 

Early on, it became clear that very little coaxing or strategic positioning would be required to secure a spot for climate change because experts and non-experts alike have assimilated knowledge about climate change into their understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to food, water, and energy. It is increasingly woven into the fabric of their conversations. But that is not the case with gender. We struggled to find speakers who could address their resource topic (food, water, energy) through a gender lens, and little was shared on the topic in small group breakouts unless one of the few gender experts in attendance happened to be at the table.

Understanding natural resource management as a gender issue is important for at least two reasons. First, women are still underrepresented in the resource-related decision-making positions at the highest levels in government ministries, civil society organizations, and businesses. Second, there are gender imbalances in the way women and men are affected by the depletion or misuse of these resources. CBI Senior Mediator Mil Niepold has said, “Communities on the front line of flaring tensions over resource control suffer firsthand from the battle over these resources, which are needed both for human survival and for economic development. As the pressures on resources like water, food, and energy increase, the possibility for those in a position of power to use them as leverage becomes increasingly more likely. For real progress to occur, everyone affected by decisions such as these should be brought to the table.” CBI is eager to help bring women to those tables, and while there is a long way to go, we learned at the 20th Anniversary Symposium that some of our colleagues are helping to pave the way.

Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, a panelist in the Energy Session and Senior Officer and Environment and Gender Index (EGI) Manager at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), shared a poignant anecdote about the power of gender to bring policymakers together. She explained that over the last several years, IUCN has helped thirteen governments develop a Climate Change Gender Action Plan (ccGAP) as part of their national climate policies. Because of the cross-cutting nature of gender, these plans can only be created effectively if the various ministries with climate mandates work together. IUCN hosts these collaborative workshops, and after one of them concluded, a participant told her, “This is the first time, when I am looking at the topic of gender and climate change, that I have sat down with people from all the different missions on climate change [including transportation, agriculture, finance, etc.].” He said he had not even met many of the other people before, though they work on the same policy issue. He and his colleagues told her, “Gender is the glue. It is a cross-cutting issue that can bring everyone together.” From a collaboration perspective, this insight is particularly valuable, as it demonstrates that making gender a focus of conversation in planning and policy may not only address issues of gender inequality, and bring more women into the conversation, but more importantly, this can be a driver for the collaborative and inclusive processes we know to be the most effective. 

We fully expect that as our field becomes increasingly knowledgeable and sensitive to these issues over the next 20 years, gender will become a significant factor in collaborative practice. For now, CBI’s 20th Anniversary Symposium left us with these and other questions:

  • Given the volume of research that links increased numbers of women in positions of authority to improved human development outcomes (see CBI Report Winter 2013), why are so few women represented in high level climate negotiations — the greatest human development challenge of them all?
  • Given the significant role women play in food production, what are best practices for ensuring gender parity in deliberations about food security?
  • What are the use and allocation questions in water that could be addressed more meaningfully through a gender lens?
  • In what ways can technology amplify women’s voices in participatory processes?