Advancing climate action with a gendered lens, one workshop at a time

Published: Wednesday 3rd May 2023
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Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it is very much a social and gendered one too. Women and girls are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, and yet they are often left out of decision-making processes on climate policies. This not only perpetuates gender inequality, but also undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Last month, the Elsevier Foundation team had pleasure of joining our partners, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), in their headquarters in Trieste, Italy, for an inspiring workshop with our recently awarded gender equity and climate action grant winners. 

Image caption: The TWAS and Elsevier Foundation team together with five of the eight winners of the TWAS-Elsevier Foundation climate action and gender equity grants who joined us in person for the inception workshop in the TWAS Headquarters in Trieste, Italy. 

Announced at COP27, the UN Climate Change Conference last November, these new grants were awarded to teams of women researchers in the Global South for projects that have the potential to produce tangible change in their communities. The eight winning projects ranged from establishing sustainable home-gardens in Guatemala, to advancing climate literacy among women in Western Nepal and empowering women to improve local livelihoods through agroforestry in the Republic of Congo and more. Though diverse and addressing local needs, they address 3 common themes: to strengthen gender equity; to address the climate-related needs of local communities; and transfer knowledge from scientific research to real-life scenarios. 

Knowledge from scientific research often suffers from not being immediately actionable, especially in the Global South – and this delays both implementation and tangible progress. Greater progress can be achieved when research is done in cooperation with local populations, and when scientific know-how is effectively shared with those living in the same communities. But at the same time, UN Women reports that globally, one fourth of all economically active women are engaged in agriculture, where they regularly contend with climate consequences such as crop failure and experience an unequal burden of care for collecting increasingly scarce water and fuel.  

For these reasons, the collaboration with TWAS aims to empower women to lead concrete projects in climate action that take them outside the lab, deepening both scientific and soft skills such as project management and leadership. 

At the recent workshop organized by TWAS, the team was able to meet five of these amazing researchers in-person: by bringing together women leaders from different countries and backgrounds, the workshop provided a unique opportunity for cross-cultural collaboration and sharing of ideas. 

One of the key takeaways as summed up by Ylann Schemm, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundations was “the importance of involving women in all stages of the climate action process.” She explains how “women are often disproportionately affected by climate change, but they are also powerful agents of change. It is essential to ensure that women’s voices are heard, their perspectives considered AND integrated to both the research design and implementation phase, for us to develop more effective and equitable solutions to the climate crisis.” 

The workshop featured a line-up of impressive speakers who shared their insights and expertise on key topics related to the climate crisis, science-policy dialogue and climate justice. It also focused on practical and concrete skills such as communication, teamwork dynamics, and how to monitor and document the impact of their work. 

Prof. Kajfež Bogataj, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, kicked off the workshop with a keynote lecture, emphasizing the importance of scientific research and data in understanding the impacts of climate change and developing effective adaptation strategies. She also stressed the critical role of education in preparing future generations to face the challenges of a changing climate, a point further highlighted by many of the team representatives who have already embedded elements of climate literacy and education in their projects. 

Image caption: Prof. Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, IPCC Nobel Peace Prize 2007 and professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, joined us for a keynote session on the adaptation and application of scientific knowledge in the context of the climate crisis. 

Dr. Anna Pirani, Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group Technical Support Unit, moderated a discussion on gender as a component of the response to climate change, together with her colleagues at the IPCC, including Elsevier Climate Advisory Board member, Dr. Joyashree Roy.  This discussion highlighted how gender issues are central to the climate crisis and that gender-responsive policies and strategies are essential for effective climate action, including the importance of engaging women and girls in climate-related decision-making processes, given their unique experiences and perspectives.  

Esther Gathoni Kanduma,  a grant recipient who works on climate-resilient pastoralism, noted: “Women are normally left out when capacity building empowerment activities take place. They are ignored”, she said “People look at women like they should not be empowered, like they don’t need to know. And yet in my country, Kenya, we have a proverb that says:  if you want to educate a nation, educate a woman. Women are progressive, they share the knowledge. They are the most vulnerable and mostly affected by climate change, and they need to understand where this problem is coming from and that solutions can come from them.”  

She explained that “in Kenya, pastoral women are responsible for household food security. This is why, in the face of climate change, they need really to adapt by identifying new food generating activities that they can be involved in, as well as other income generating activities, for them to be able to survive and persevere throughout this crisis.” 

Image caption: Kenyan biochemist Esther Gathoni Kanduma, who leads a project on climate-smart pastoralism in Kenya through the TWAS-Elsevier Foundation grant. The project focuses on mentoring and capacity building of women and girls in pastoral communities in Kenya. Climate-smart technologies are applied to fodder production, methane-reducing livestock probiotics, sustainable bee farming/conservation, agroforestry and rehabilitation of degraded rangelands. 

“I am so grateful that the TWAS and Elsevier Foundation team were able to identify the unique character of our project focusing on pastoral communities,” said Esther “No one has ever given indigenous pastoral communities a voice, no one has ever focused on them. Yet in Sub-Saharan Africa, a lot of arid and semi-arid lands are the ones that are mostly affected by climate change. As a woman, I have an opportunity to empower other women, especially the most vulnerable. And I’m able to tap into their energy, into the indigenous knowledge, for us to identify and come together with a solution that can be applicable in their own local settings.” 

The Elsevier Foundation TWAS workshop was a powerful reminder of the critical role of women’s leadership in addressing global challenges, underscoring the importance of collaboration and cross-sectoral partnerships in advancing gender equity and climate action.