Women are climate leaders, but they struggled to be heard at COP26 The voices of the climate justice movement are young, female and Black or Indigenous. World leaders agree that they're vital but haven't let them speak at the negotiating table yet.

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The voices of the climate justice movement are young, women and black or indigenous. World leaders agree that they are important but have not yet allowed them to speak at the negotiating table.

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the last day of the United Nations COP26 Climate summit in Glasgow, delegates who identify as part of climate justice movement Massive walkout. At a pre-arranged time, people from non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups left the plenary hall and joined the distant protestors of the eight-foot-high fence around the summit, saying “a united people will never give up.”


Here, from a makeshift podium, speakers (representatives and non-representatives) addressed crowds of people in wind and rain, many of whom had chosen to stay inside the heated halls of climate talks to come and listen. Almost all of those who reached Mike were young women.

“My given name is Xwisxwacca, and I come from a very long line of powerful women,” said an activist from the Aboriginal regions of Coast Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth in Canada. “Many people in my life have shown me what it means to tell the truth and don’t be afraid.”

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Another, who identified herself as only 15-year-old Safiya from Chad, spoke about the power of African women when they came together, but also about her frustration at the lack of inclusion within the summit. “I’m here with my sister,” she said. “I’ve been screaming and screaming for the past two weeks. No one is listening.”

This has been a common theme at UN conferences held in Scotland over the past two weeks. Young women from all over the world have come to COP26 with stories of how their homeland is being destroyed and how various solutions and policy ideas can make things better. But even when they are given a mic to speak within the walls of the summit, there is no guarantee that they will be heard.

A United Nations report published last month showed that even though men made up more than half of government representatives in climate talks, they spoke for 74 percent of the time, giving their voices a lot of representation in the conversation. Climate justice advocate and former Ireland President Mary Robinson this week dismissed the summit as “too male, too pale, too old”.

Outside the summit, it’s a different matter. The systemic issues of maintaining the status quo with the COP do not apply here, meaning that at fringe events and rallies, it is rare to see a male speaker, and even rarer to see a white person on stage. . This is no mere coincidence. The climate justice movement is at the intersection of its core and actively raises the voices of those most affected by climate change but whose voices are least heard. Not only does the movement listen to these women (often young, black and indigenous women), but it points to them as its leaders.

Txai Surui, a 24-year-old indigenous activist from Rondnia, Brazil, was one of several young women convened to speak to presidents and prime ministers at the opening of the World Leaders Summit. But time on the podium is not the same as making important decisions about finances and policy – ​​and Surui knows it.

Txai Surui from the Pater Surui people of the state of Rondnia, Brazil.

“It was great to be able to give a speech during the opening, but I just don’t want to give a speech here,” she said in an interview. “I want to be able to be part of the negotiations and decisions and that’s not happening here.”

It is important that indigenous people are the heroes of their own stories, Tacumu Cuikuro, an Amazonian Brazilian filmmaker, said in an interview. It meant a lot to him to see Surui address world leaders. “Their voices and that of indigenous women are really being heard,” he said.

At the heart of Surui’s message is that indigenous peoples, particularly those in the Amazon, need to be right at the center of discussions about the climate crisis, not just on the periphery. That said, other countries have recognized it, but that doesn’t mean they are doing anything to change that.

“We are not being invited to participate in these decisions,” Surui said. “That has to change because we are on the front lines of this battle.”

Young women in COP are at risk of being tokenized in many different ways. During the summit, leaders have been accused of youth-washing and gender-washing – using young people and women to make themselves appear like they are being listened to. That Swedish activist Greta Thunberg slams summit as PR event At a rally last week.

The inclusion of women for the TV moment distracts from structural issues at the peak and the climate crisis more broadly, according to Tette Nera-Lauron, senior climate justice chief at ActionAid. “It doesn’t matter that you have so many women who come on stage if you don’t get to the root of why women are facing the harshest impacts. [of climate change],” she said at a news conference on Thursday.

front line women

Women’s climate leadership is born out of lived experience. Along with trans and non-binary people, they are disproportionately hurt by the climate crisis versus men.

ActionAid’s climate policy coordinator Teresa Anderson said during a press conference on Friday that climate change is directly responsible for the erosion of human rights, affecting children’s rights to food and education, and increasing the risks of trafficking and slavery.

“Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to all of these influences,” Anderson said. “If you lose your home in a flood, or your crops in a drought, or your farmland in sea level rise, or your community infrastructure in a cyclone, recover, or rebuild There is no money available to help you, or to avoid falling into a spiral of deep poverty.”

During a separate press conference organized at COP26 by the Women and Gender Constituencies (one of the nine official stakeholder groups of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), a chair was left open to voices missing at the summit. “We are here to represent them, and to talk about the different demands and what we see should be the results,” said Gina Cortés Valderrama, project manager for ecofeminist network WECF International.

This is an issue that Rape Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez picked up multiple times During his visit to the summit this week. The Congresswoman from the Bronx talked about how indigenous women go missing or are murdered near sites of fossil fuel extraction, both within and outside the US.

For Ayesha Siddiqa, 22, a climate activist from Pakistan who now lives in New York, knowing that women have died as a result of fossil fuel extraction and the wars on oil is inextricably linked to her activism. Is. “It is no coincidence that those who experienced the threat of extinction from white supremacy, at the hands of colonists, clearly understand the pain of the earth, the threat of extinction,” she said over email. “We are the custodians of the earth, because we are the earth, in it the inequality of the earth is our dead.”

Despite this, women do not want to be seen as victims. Mwanahamisi Singano, program manager for Femnet, a rights organization for African women, described how during a pre-COP event, African women and girls said they were tired of being case studies.


Ugandan Patience Nabukalu addresses a rally in front of COP26.

“African women and girls have aspirations. They have dreams. They want to live life. They want to move forward,” she said at the Women’s and Gender constituency press conference. “The most important thing is that they want to be free from all forms of oppression. They want to be rightfully recognized as the custodians of knowledge, ability and skill.”

This agency’s desire can also be seen in the young women of COP, who see solutions to the problems facing women around the world within themselves, not as negotiators inside Summit Hall.

“To me, the climate crisis has a gender,” said 19-year-old Dominika Lasota, a Polish Future activist. “This global answer has been fueled by a lot of privileged white men, especially from the West. And so to me, it is not surprising that the answer to that crisis is somewhat different, and it is not surprising that It is women who come forward.”

allowing women to lead

Time and again during COP26, it has become clear just how influential women’s leadership is. Even in the first few days of the World Leaders Summit, the words that resonated the most and everyone else – above President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – were the words of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley.

“Are we really going to leave Scotland without the resolve and ambition that are so desperately needed to save lives and save our planet?” He described a room composed mainly of men. “How many more sounds and how many more pictures should we watch without moving on these screens? Or have we become so blind and hard-pressed that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?”

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