28 November 2017

SHRH and the COP23: Insights from ARROW on SRHR Advocacy Work Around COP23

The COP23 is significant for women! After five years of advocating for inclusion of gender in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) discussions and actions, the Gender Action Plan (GAP) was finally adopted on Gender Day (14 November 2017). “Human rights,” which became the contentious text among negotiators, was also successfully included in the GAP document. The GAP serves as the roadmap to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment in all UNFCCC discussions and actions; this means that women’s human rights are recognised when implementing the roadmap.

Women’s rights also include their right to health, including SRHR. SRHR is still a very new word in the UNFCCC space. Being resilient, ARROW looks forward to the day when Parties ask “How do we include SRHR in the UNFCCC?”

Health priority excludes SRHR

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is the leading authority in health, has been focusing on tackling pollution since COP22. Yes, pollution--especially indoor pollution due to the use of solid biomass fuel for cooking--does contribute to the morbidity and mortality of women and girls in the developing and least developed countries. When it comes to the interlinkages with the 2030 Agenda, WHO explained that it cannot focus on too many indicators thus needs to narrow its focus on only Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 7, 11 and 13. Though WHO recognises women and girls as one of the populations most vulnerable to extreme weather events, SDG 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) is nowhere in the framework. ARROW is disappointed that women and girls are left behind again! Climate change does impact the SRHR of women and girls negatively. For example, in terms of gynaecological and menstruation problems, pregnancy and delivery complications, early and forced marriage, and gender-based violence.

Inclusion of SRHR – remains a challenge 

Even though there is no “buy-in” from Parties on SRHR at COP23, ARROW as well as other SRHR advocates should celebrate the small wins mentioned below:

Firstly, ARROW was officially a member of the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) of the UNFCCC in early 2016. Since then ARROW has been working within the WGC space to advocate for inclusion of SRHR. In 2016, for the first time “SRHR” was mentioned in the WGC statement for COP22. This year, SRHR is a standalone key demand item out of the 19 key demands of WGC for COP23. The demand calls for women’s agency and rights to decide for themselves over their fertility and body free from stigma, violence and coercion (see the full text below for Item 19). This is momentous as it shows that the women’s group in the climate change space is now embracing the ICPD, MDG and SDG mandates of comprehensive SRHR and recognising its urgency in the climate change context.

19. Promote health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights

In fulfilling the right to health articulated in the Paris Agreement, gender norms, roles and relations should be considered as an essential marker in determining the climate change risks and vulnerability indices because these differences reflect a combined effect of physiological, behavioural and socially constructed influences including on health. All policies, strategies, and plans that focus on issues of climate change and health need to be integrated and coherent with, but not limited to, the Sustainable Development Goals. These must include responses to safeguard and provide for the people’s health, including, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as well as strategies to end child/ early and/or forced marriage. On this point, we urge COP23 to recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a crucial means to gender equality and as a climate change adaptation strategy. Parties should incorporate SRHR, including safeguard to end child, early/forced marriage, into the UNFCCC framework for national adaptation plans, programs and budgeting. When women and girls experience bodily autonomy and lead lives free from marginalization, stigma, violence and coercion - including sexual and gender based violence and early/forced marriage - and have the ability to decide if, when and how often they have children, as well as access to implementation of their decision, including availability of SRHR information and services, they and their families and communities become empowered and more resilient to the impacts of climate change. 

Secondly, the President of the Marshall Islands, Ms. Hilda Heine, stated in her article published by the Guardian that global climate action must be gender equal. She also underscored in her article that it must include fighting for SRHR. This is the first time SRHR in the context of climate change is mentioned by a head of government! We hope that from now on more leaders or heads of government would echo the same sentiment and initiate for SRHR discourse in the UNFCCC space.

In conclusion, the SRHR advocacy work in COP is still at the phase where Parties are mainly ignorant about SRHR. Much work still needs to be done by ARROW and other SRHR champions, to create awareness amongst Parties on the adverse impact of climate change on women’s SRHR as well as advocate for inclusion of SRHR in climate change policies, strategies, National Adaption Plans (NAPs)/National Adaptation Programmes of Actions (NAPAs) and in its budgeting. Please read ARROW and partners’ statement for COP23 for our detailed asks. 

This article was written by Hwei Mian Lim, Senior Programme Officer of Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW).

Would you like to learn more why climate change matters for women’s health and well-being? Please read the article “Climate change exacerbates gender inequality, putting women’s health at risk” by Hwei Mian Lim of ARROW.