A woman lies on a stretcher in the winter cold, her pregnant belly exposed. Around her: a trail of devastation, her maternity ward in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in rubble and ruins, after being hit by Russian bombs. Now we hear the news that the woman and her unborn child have died.
An estimated 80,000 women will give birth in Ukraine in the next few months, many without shelter, without access to proper care. Childbirth – it should be life-embracing, but it risks to be life-shattering for these women. This illustrates clearly that conflicts and crises are not gender-blind. They affect women disproportionately. That’s true for the war in Ukraine. It’s true for the conflicts we see across the globe, from Afghanistan to the Sahel.
And it’s also true for the other major crisis of our times: the climate crisis. That’s why it is crucial that this Commission on the Status of Women is addressing the link between gender and the climate crisis in a comprehensive manner.
To me, there are two clear messages this CSW should send out: First, we must put women’s rights at the heart of our climate action. Climate change puts women’s and girls’ most basic rights at risk: their right to bodily integrity, to health, to education. During droughts, it is girls who are sent to school less frequently because gender norms dictate that fetching water falls to them. And as the distance they have to walk increases, so does their exposure to violence and abuse.
The battle against climate change is a battle against deepening inequalities! “The regime thinks I am just hugging trees.” That’s what a young climate activist from the Sudan told me last week. And she’s right. It is much more. It’s a battle to uphold the rights and freedoms of the people who are most exposed.
That is why we took a stand in the Human Rights Council and actively supported the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. But I’d like to sound a note of warning: We should refrain from considering women as mere victims who need special protection. Women are a – if not the - powerful force for change. If we let them participate.
And that’s my second point: We need women and other marginalised groups to have an equal say in decision-making! For the very simple reason that this benefits us all! If half of the population is unable to participate as equals, no society can reach its full potential. And if half of the world’s population is excluded, we can neither achieve sustainable peace, nor save the global climate. We finally need gender equality in all relevant bodies. I am proud to be able to say that with the recruitment of Jennifer Morgan for the German climate negotiation team, we will be able to contribute to that goal.
Equal representation is necessary – at all levels. That is the signal this conference must send out! We want the women of this world to be able to embrace their future without fear, but with confidence whether they live in a drought-hit area of the Sudan, in a flood-struck region of Bangladesh, or in the midst of war-torn Mariupol, in East Ukraine.
It’s our joint responsibility to fight this battle – for them and for us.