At the recently concluded COP26 in Glasgow, countries and non-state actors around the world came forward with new commitments to advance gender equality in climate action. 

It remains unclear how many of these commitments are gender-responsive and includes the interconnections between gender, equity, poverty and sustainability. 

Environmental researchers and activists are calling for an “intersectional approach” to tackling climate change so that climate policies recognize the power dynamics that create and sustain conditions of poverty and environmental degradation in the first place.  

Looking at climate solutions using  intersectionality

“When we talk about gender equality, people tend to relate to the binary of women and men and the idea that women are treated unequally to men. Using an intersectionality lens means we have to look into other social identities such as race, ethnicity or sexual orientation and so on,” explained Ha Nguyen, Research Fellow on Gender, Environment and Development at SEI Asia. 

The term intersectionality refers to how different forms of social identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality overlap, particularly in the experiences of marginalized groups that often face multiple layers of oppression. 

Nguyen cited SEI research on transitions to the bioeconomy or circular economy, where an intersectional lens enabled the team to question who benefits or is exploited from employment created by so-called green jobs.

From an indigenous person’s perspective, there is nothing neutral about the crisis. Environmental policies in Asia must recognize how the climate crisis affects different populations differently, says indigenous Filipino policymaker Teddy Baguilat Jr.

“Even among marginalized groups, there are subgroups that are even more affected,” he explained. “This could be Indigenous Peoples, rural women, children. And while we do have the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, which is something that is revolutionary all over the world, in terms of implementation and enforcement, there’s still a lot of discrimination and a lot of laws that need to be amended to protect their rights.” 

Strengthening alliances from activists to policymakers for a gender-just society 

“Policy has to address the problem of inequality and social injustice on the ground. Because there there’s overwhelming evidence of policy prioritizing, like commercialization of nature, have led to environmental change and expose poor community to disaster and poverty and so on,” Nguyen added.

“In order to progress toward gender and just political environment, policy and policymakers have to take sides with the poor and disadvantaged groups. Policymakers should listen to researchers and communities of practice because they are always there and willing to work with policymakers providing evidence to make decisions.”

Baguilat agrees that environmental policies need input from government researchers, civil society and think tanks.

“But after the drafting what’s very important, I think, is to talk to the sectors that will be affected by these environmental policies IPs, farmers, local communities,” he said. “Likewise, on the other side, this is something that I’ve been emphasizing among civil society organizations, not to look at lawmakers or politicians, us as your enemies. At the end of the day, if they want their policy recommendations or their advocacy is to be promoted and to become law, then they need to talk and engage with policymakers.”

Turning science into policy is challenging given that researchers and policymakers rarely interact with each other. Policymakers are often unaware of the latest research findings or may not be familiar with technical jargon that is in many policy briefings provided by their own bureaucrats.

Baguilat suggests that the scientific community should simplify the language and think of policymakers as regular citizens who need context to understand the problems.

Policymakers don’t want [to read] long research. Whenever I talk about the climate change, for instance, I talk about the floods. This is a reality that everybody experiences and that’s how you help policymakers connect it to environmental solutions,” he said.

This is an excerpt of a podcast conversation with indigenous policymaker Teddy Baguilat Jr from the Philippines and Ha Nguyen, SEI Asia gender researcher, for the SEI Asia podcast series Environment and Policy in Asia . Views expressed in the episode do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions and endorsements of SEI and its funders.