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UN women’s summit recognises role of faith-based communities in climate justice

Posted on: April 13, 2022 9:15 AM
Abdulla Shahid (at podium), President of the seventy-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly, addresses the opening of the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Seated at dais are, from left to right: Secretary-General António Guterres; Mathu Joyini, Permanent Representative of South Africa and Chair of the Sixty-sixth Session of the CSW; and Movses Abelian, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).
Photo Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The role of faith-based communities in achieving gender equality in the context of climate justice has been recognised at the United Nations, thanks in part to the work of the Anglican Communion Office at the UN (ACOUN). 

The 66th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) took place from 14 to 25 March, with a focus this year on climate change and natural disasters. The Agreed Conclusions issued at the end of the summit recognise that “women and girls play a vital role as agents of change for sustainable development”. 

The document calls on faith communities, among other parties, to commit to furthering gender equality and integrating gender perspectives into their climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies. 

Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and an Anglican Communion delegate at CSW66, said the commission had recognised “the prophetic role of women in promoting an environmental ethic, and their role as earth-keepers, safeguarding the natural environment and bio-diversity”. 

But she said the Communion – and the wider world – now faced the challenging task of integrating the recommendations and commitments emerging from CSW66 into their policies and actions. 

Women are “both victims and prophets” 

The UN Commission on the Status of Women, which meets every year, is the principal global body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Anglican Communion sends a delegation as part of its permanent presence at the UN, representing the views and experiences of people from across the Communion. 

Opening the 2022 summit, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the climate crisis was one of the “defining issues of our time” and that around the world, “women and girls face the greatest threats and the deepest harm” for environmental disaster. 

CSW66 agreed that achieving gender equality and ensuring that women and girls are able to fully participate in decision-making around climate issues were “essential for achieving sustainable development, promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies, enhancing inclusive and sustainable economic growth and productivity, ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions everywhere and ensuring the well-being of all”. 

Rachel Mash said it was encouraging that CSW had recognised “that women are both victims and prophets in the Climate Change space”, something the Anglican Communion has repeatedly emphasised in its work at the UN. 

“Women are impacted more highly than men by climate change and by disasters. When drought strikes, women must walk further for wood and water, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, limiting their education and work opportunities,” she said. “In times of disaster they are more at risk, for they may be at home looking after children and the elderly and so cannot escape quickly. Social norms do not encourage girls to run and traditional clothing hampers their ability to flee.” 

Mandy Marshall, the Director for Gender Justice for the Anglican Communion, also welcomed the recognition that women and children face specific risks of gender-based violence and exploitation as a result of climate change and environmental disasters, and that these risks must be considered in the global responses to climate issues. 

The Anglican delegation to the summit – working with the US-based Episcopal Church and the Mothers’ Union – had heavily advocated for faith-based communities – often the first responders in disasters and climate initiatives – to be specifically recognised as integral to the global response to climate issues. 

Mandy Marshall said she was grateful that Article 62 of the Agreed Conclusions included a specific call to faith-based organisations – alongside governments, civil society groups, NGOs and the private sector – to commit to action to further gender equality and to integrating gender perspectives into their climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies.

She also welcomed the particular recognition given by CSW66 to the role of indigenous communities in climate issues. Ensuring indigenous communities are heard and taken seriously by global decision-makers has long been a key element of the Anglican Communion’s work at the UN. One of the ACO delegates, Jacynthia Murphy from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, was invited to speak at a UK government event on the sidelines of the summit, about the impact of environmental issues on indigenous communities around the world. 

“People’s homes are going to be destroyed” 

The conclusions from CSW66 will feed into further decision making at the UN and beyond, including at the next climate summit, COP27, taking place in Egypt later this year. 

Rachel Mash said it was “not always easy” to be a faith leader at the UN, where religion is often seen as having “a negative influence on gender and climate justice”.  But she said faith-based organisations, with their strong values and “enormous” global reach “can have a huge role to play” in conversations about the environment.  

“To do that, we have to recognise our shortcomings. To be effective in our climate change work, we have to ensure equal leadership by women leaders, and amplify the voices of young women,” she said. 

Mandy Marshall said members of the Anglican Communion “need to play our part in actually implementing the Agreed Conclusions”, and in lobbying governments to do the same, and “most importantly, to allocate finance and funding”. 

“It’s key that we focus on this because people’s lives, livelihoods and homes are going to be destroyed if we do not take note of the global impact of climate change and the environment,” she said. “We need to take action as individuals and as a whole in our national churches. We need to prioritise this for the sake of our brothers and sisters across the Communion who will be losing their homes and ancestral lands.”