“Climate action must include investing in women activists, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a virtual town hall with women representing a range of civil society organizations during the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66).

The climate crisis is a human rights crisis and a women’s rights crisis, UN chief says

“The triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss pose an enormous threat to progress on women’s rights and gender equality,” he said. “Women and girls, particularly in Small Island Developing States, are bearing the brunt of climate-related droughts, landslides, floods, and hurricanes. The climate crisis is a human rights crisis – and a women’s rights crisis.”

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous echoed the sentiment, recognizing that in this time of intersecting and multiple crises, it is critical to hear from, and act upon the needs of women.

“This CSW is an important opportunity to make bold decisions to advance gender equality in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters. We know that climate change is a risk multiplier, exacerbating existing gender inequalities and undermining women’s and girls’ rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” said Ms. Bahous. “It is only through ambitious, cross-cutting actions that we can address the climate crises and fulfil the goals of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.”

Civil society representatives from around the world tuned in and spoke up, calling for unified action that leaves no one behind in progress towards equality and sustainability around the world.

When we talk about climate change, we have to put indigenous women in that context,” said Tarcila Rivera Zea, an indigenous woman from Peru, founder of Chirapaq and representative of Religions for Peace. An indigenous woman without land, without access to resources, without a full life, cannot have a sustainable life. And that is we ask that in all situations we can understand that dimension of the collective rights as a people and the individual rights of indigenous women.”

Speakers highlighted the needs of other marginalized and communities underrepresented in decision-making, such as youth, women with disabilities and LGBTIQ+ individuals to be at the centre of global conversations and plans for action, across all processes and systems.

Jeevika Shiv, a youth activist from India, emphasized the need to go beyond just a seat at the table for youth, but meaningful roles and contributions ensuring that “gender is not limited to one system, but young feminist leadership is driving what the UN actually moves forward and towards”.

Adding to that, Antonia Kirkland of Equality Now, drew attention to the need for equality in law, noting: “Climate justice, and many other issues are inextricably linked to legal equality, which is fundamental to gender equality generally.”

The Secretary-General committed to doing more on the inclusion of people with disabilities across the agenda going forward, saying: “The question of people with disability is not a minor question, it is not a peripheral question. We are far from doing enough, it has not yet received the full priority it deserves and I will do what I can to put this on the front line of our activities.”

Mr. Guterres closed the town hall meeting by reiterating the critical importance of women’s leadership in climate action.

“It is a battle in every country, in every society, to ensure that we have women in positions of leadership when it comes to climate, and we’ll be doing everything we can to support it,” he said.