Mixed progress but good intentions

14.10.11. Looking back at the end of Week One, business is well underway and the initial excitement of luxuries provided to delegates by the organizers, such as the Samsung tablets distributed to upload the daily papers in an effort to "green" the Conference, free water in the corridors, two arms full of Korean presents, and free donuts served by Dunkin Donuts over lunch, are starting to wear off, write François Rogers and Lorena Aguilar of the IUCN Gender Office.

François Rogers, Lorena Aguilar, of IUCN's Gender Office

In fact, one could be forgiven for wondering whether to see the donut or the hole as the ambition of the agenda for the meeting started to sink in with delegates. This week has seen the consideration of the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention (2008–2018), the program and budget, the evaluation of existing and potential reporting, accountability and institutional arrangements for the Global Mechanism, and mechanisms to facilitate regional coordination of the implementation of the Convention. In addition, during Week One, several committees have met (Science and Technology and Review of the Implementation of the Convention), dialogue with civil society is taking place today with a follow-up meeting scheduled for the 19th, and a two-day roundtable with Parliamentarians were held yesterday and today. Overall, mixed progress has been made.

Since February 2011, the IUCN Gender Office has been working closely with the Secretariat of the UNCCD to develop its capacity on gender. It is ironic and unfortunate that both gender issues and drylands are far too often seen as a liability. Despite this perception, the reality is that both hold important keys to unlock sustainable development. Degradation and drought are the silent killers of our time. Populations of drylands include the poorest, the hungriest, the least healthy and the most marginalized people in the world – the forgotten billion - and many of those suffering are women.

It is therefore imperative that we recognize the important and diverse roles and needs of both women and men within the sustainable development agenda. And UNCCD plays a crucial role in this.

Women make crucial contributions in agriculture and rural enterprises in drylands as farmers, animal husbandry workers and entrepreneurs. Their roles vary across regions, but in every part of the world women face gender-specific constraints that reduce their productivity and limit their contributions to agricultural production, economic growth and the well-being of their families, communities and countries.

Rather than merely adding women’s participation onto existing strategies and programs, we therefore need to transform unequal social and institutional structures by recognizing that the promotion of gender equality is a central driving principle for sustainable development and that it holds real potential to enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and projects with development and environmental conservation at their core. Despite this understanding, however, gender disparities remain widespread. They are among the deepest and most pervasive of all inequalities and, in fact, hinder our best development efforts profoundly.

Of all three the Rio Conventions, the Preamble of UNCCD recognizes gender the most prominently. The UNCCD recognizes “the important role played by women in regions affected by desertification and/or drought, particularly in rural areas of developing countries, and the importance of ensuring the full participation of both men and women at all levels in programs to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought.” Numerous decisions of the UNCCD have also reiterated, through the Conferences of the Parties in previous years, the importance of gender associated with various aspects of the Convention.

Unfortunately, and for a number of reasons, the Convention has fallen behind on making good of this good intension by Parties at its inception and implementation on gender issues have been suffering. To date, a systemized, coherent and coordinated Convention-wide approach to mainstreaming gender is still elusive.

Building on the decisions of Parties and on the experience of mainstreaming gender in other multilateral agreements, IUCN and the UNCCD recently developed a draft Gender Policy Framework. The draft recommendation towards the approval of the Framework is this week being considered by Parties.

Central to the draft Framework is the understanding that there is no single entry point for gender mainstreaming – it has to take place at different levels – and that no single entity is solely responsible – that it is a multi-stakeholder responsibility.

The consideration of the Gender Policy Framework at the CoP marks a key turning point in the history of the Convention.

By recognizing women as agents of change, we significantly build our resilience in our battle against the compounded environmental challenges we face - helping us to both prevent and prepare for disasters.

Approval of the Framework will also lead to improving the policies and governance of the UNCCD, and help us prevent further hardship - experienced in dryland areas on a daily basis.

It will also significantly help us in reducing the effects of desertification, to build vital safety nets for communities that increase their resilience and enhance our preparedness for when disasters do strike.

The Committee on the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC) began considering the draft gender framework here in Changwonon Tuesday afternoon. They did so as a package of frameworks presented by the Secretariat, alongside similar advocacy frameworks including climate change and food security.

In hindsight, this might have been done more strategically. As could have been expected, Parties in plenary raised a number of concerns around climate change and food security and the discussions on gender got sidetracked somewhat. Nevertheless, at the end of Tuesday’s session, a contact group was established to hammer out differences and IUCN have been lobbying to convince parties not to handle all three documents as one.

Last night, Thursday evening, saw the contact group meeting for the first time. In the two hours allocated, they did not manage to get to discuss any of the frameworks, resulting in a heavier workload for next week - also the high-level segment - and definitely not an ideal time.

IUCN will, however, make use of the opportunity of having ministers around, and the Gender Office, in collaboration with the UNCCD, will be convening a high-level networking function with Heads of Delegation on the draft Gender Policy Framework in Monday evening in the Rio Pavilion.

Although we are leaving on Tuesday morning, we are still hopeful that the Framework will be approved before the end of CoP10.

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