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Exclusive – COP27’s Gender Day with Catalina Santelices

We spoke with Chilean socio-environmental activist and ecofeminist Catalina Santelices about the link between gender and climate change, why women and girls are disproportionately affected by the crisis, and what must be done to address this.

Despite progress in recent years, a great deal more work needs to be done to amplify the gender perspective in the context of climate change. At COP27, a stand-alone day has been held for this, with the aim of fully integrating equality into the processes of formulating and implementing policies and actions on the ground.

So far, talks have sought to bring the issue to the forefront by providing a dedicated platform where existing challenges can be discussed, experiences can be shared, and responsive strategies can be promoted.

To learn more, we spoke with Chilean socio-environmental activist and ecofeminist Catalina Santelices, who focuses on this particular facet of protecting our Earth.

She is the co-founder of Latinas For Climate, a network of young Latin American feminists that raises awareness about intersectionality and supports women and girls across the region with virtual content empowering them to raise their voices. Through this project, which they hope will have a far-reaching impact, they’re connecting the dots between human rights and the ongoing crisis.


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Thred: The link between gender and climate change is not necessarily obvious to most. Yet women and girls are some of the most vulnerable categories of people who are having to not only confront the adverse effects of the crisis but really adapt their lives to cope with it. Could you expand upon why it is they’re disproportionately affected and how you hope this will be addressed today? 

Catalina: There are numerous reasons as to why women – particularly those from the Global South – are so impacted by the crisis. The most prolific being outdated societal structures. I’m from Chile and the girls in our Indigenous communities are really struggling because they’re still expected to stay at home and care for their families rather than study so they can make important decisions. Women have 3X as high a chance of dying in a climate disaster because we are relegated to these spaces.

Thred: Do you believe that COP27 can meet the primary needs of women and girls on the front lines (integrated policies, financial aid, and better regional cooperation are some examples)?

Catalina: I don’t think that COP is going to save them. The decisions made today won’t reach women and girls on the front lines. Not now, not for years to come. What really helps, however, is connecting with people outside of the negotiations. Because inside those rooms, the needs of the people aren’t being projected, only private interests.

It’s money over lives at the moment.

Thred: The structure of COP remains dis-empowering for minority groups, from the rules around how actions (e.g. protests) can be held, to limitations around access. This exacerbates the challenges already facing women and girls – especially those from the Global South. How can these issues be rectified and have we witnessed any improvements at this years’ summit so far? 

Catalina: Latinas are really underrepresented at COP this year. This is OK. We’re in Africa, so it’s essential we amplify the voices of African women. However, Latinas are not being heard. Last year, we only made up 3.8% of all attendees. The decisions are being made without our presence. In terms of improvements, I don’t think there have been any. If you think about the main policy ask at COP27 – loss and damage – we haven’t really seen much. This demonstrates a serious lack of commitment from governments. We’re not even half way there yet we have no time to lose. One improvement for me that I’d like to mention has been the youth pavilion. I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people from around the world to discuss projects, our cultures, our struggles. It’s been a great, safe, space for us to network that I think was really needed this time round.

Thred: Though women and girls are already disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, they’ve still been showing up with resilience to solve these problems for decades. How can we amplify their voices, better representation, and ensure they have a seat at the table while avoiding tokenism? 

Catalina: As a young girl from Chile I experience a lot of tokenism, but also youth washing. At COP, the decision makers only want us for photo ops and to make speeches that allow them to feel as though they’re including minority groups, but that they don’t truly listen to. We need to have a voice. We need to be represented everywhere. Not just where they want us to be. I mean, we can’t even protest this year. We’re handcuffed. Something needs to change and soon.

Thred: Around 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. When disasters hit, they often face harmful gender norms and sexual violence while seeking protection. Today, there’s set to be a focus on enhancing the prevention of these implications. What outcome would you like to see and how can we as individuals be pushing for more recognition of this problem once the summit is over? 

Catalina: Firstly, it’s not being talked about enough! We know it’s happening because in our regions it’s not something we’re heading towards, it’s our reality. We’ve seen it with Pakistan. They aren’t doing anything. There isn’t a gender perspective in figuring out how we’re going to tackle this issue. Only seven of the 110 world leaders at COP27 identify as women, according to the UN. Urgent action is so needed to rectify this total lack of representation. Especially if we are to address all of the injustices we face for being women outside of the summit’s walls.

We want a seat at the table because we deserve it. We have the abilities, the knowledge.

Individually, we need to be talking about it as much as we can. It’s not obvious that women are so affected by this crisis. The more we spread awareness, however, the sooner we’ll see women included the way they deserve to be.

Thred: There is a huge gap in gender-sensitive climate finance. Who is responsible for guaranteeing that women are no longer excluded from the economic benefits of mitigation efforts? 

Catalina: We still aren’t seeing results. Until we do, we can only hope that they’ve approached the finance strategy from a gender perspective. I’ve heard it’s likely they have, but I can’t say for sure.

Thred: What commitments are required to support women bearing the brunt in fragile regions? And why is it so essential that their specific vulnerabilities take centre stage at COP27? 

Catalina: We need money. It plays a huge role in committing to the needs of women in fragile regions. Without it we can’t achieve our goals. We have the capacity, but we’re not being heard in these spaces. Donating and supporting women as individuals, non-profits, the private sector, the public sector – it all helps us do what’s necessary. We have the solutions for our own problems. We don’t need the Global North to come and save us but we need them to show us the money.

Thred: Why is it so important that women’s diverse viewpoints are incorporated into solutions? 

Catalina: Because we are the ones experiencing this crisis first-hand. Even though we have the least power in the grand scheme of things. We know how it’s affecting people. We’ve seen it happen to our families, our friends, our communities. We know what we’re facing. We have the solutions because we’ve had so long to experience them. Women and girls are the solution to this crisis. If we educate them, we can solve this. We need to give them the capacity to not only have these ideas, but to implement them.

We can change everything with our perspectives if we’re given the chance.

Thred: How should people in powerful positions be leveraging the opportunities presented by a just transition to improve the lives of women who are adversely burdened?  

Catalina: People in power are doing nothing. They’re saving themselves, their private needs, and the economies of the countries they live in. They don’t care about those on the frontlines. We have to take things into our own hands. We’re not here to be saved, we’re here to save the world. We’re dedicating our time to uplifting the most critical ecosystems. We have the solutions; we only need the money that’s owed to us by years and years of inequity in all corners of the world.

Thred: Why is gender equality so integral to climate action? 

Catalina: There is no climate justice without gender justice. Nor without human rights. The climate crisis is a human rights crisis. Women make up 50% of the Earth’s population. We can’t be left behind yet again in secondary roles that have no impact; we have to be at the forefront of the fight. Of the solutions. Women uplift their communities with their solutions. How can we do so at COP if we’re not being listened to? We need more representation. We are in this together, let’s act like it.