The discussions were frank and open. As Jamaica Environment Trust’s Executive Director Suzanne Stanley put it, the Commonwealth Foundation’s Second Conversation on “Exploring the Intersection Between Gender and Climate Change in the Caribbean” was “diverse, lively, sometimes even heated!” The discussion was a partnership with the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), Mona Campus Unit, in Kingston.
The conversation took place over two and a half days from May 29th to 31st, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters on the Mona campus in Kingston. It was more than a conversation, however. The aim of the discussions was to develop, through consultation, a “gender guidance tool.” This is a document that will provide a framework for participants to take away with them, as they get to work in planning and implementing stronger climate change adaptation projects, back home.
The conversation followed on from the first, which took place at UN House in Bridgetown, Barbados in 2018. National Coordinator for the GEF Small Grants Programme, David Bynoe, told me that after the first successful meeting, which he facilitated, “some aspects of the conversation needed to be expanded.” There was a need for participants to learn more about handling and interpreting disaggregated data – in other words, data that is broken down in a way that is relevant to their needs.
“That conversation, really and truly, had to continue,” said Mr. Bynoe. “I think the partnership is well worth it,” he added, “because once you move beyond the conversation, and we go into the implementation of the actions from the event, then this will be very important for the region.” He reminded me that support from the GEF Small Grants Programme will “allow civil society organizations to dialogue with Governments around gender issues,” helping them to make a meaningful impact for change and craft policy.
“We see this as a win-win for us, in terms of this partnership,” concluded Mr. Bynoe.
Groups of women (and men), mostly civil society representatives, from eleven countries in the English-speaking Caribbean huddled together in animated groups. They explored several angles over the period, ably facilitated by Kimberley Carr-Tobias of the IGDS Mona Campus Unit. They identified key gender issues in the Caribbean – the power dynamics, the discrimination, the interaction between men and women, which groups are having particular challenges (older people, people with special needs, and so on). The focus was on “imbalances” – recognizing and taking them on board as we tackle climate change and gender at the civil society level.
Dr. Leith Dunn tackled disaggregated data (how do participants understand it and use it in their work?) and gender analysis; participants looked at how they could measure gender issues in the context of their work. Dr. Adelle Thomas of Climate Analytics provided background on the Green Climate Fund and Mr. Mitchell Lay discussed the “Blue Economy” concept that much of the Caribbean has embraced – what have we learned, through the gender lens?
I spoke with Akilah Jaramogi, Founder and CEO of the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project in Trinidad. She gave me her personal perspective, as a forester managing 300 acres and 22 workers. This year has been a difficult one, tackling drought, floods and an arson attack (“I am a trained firefighter. I stopped it,” said this resilient Caribbean woman). This was her third involvement with the Commonwealth Foundation’s discussions. “I work in a male-dominated field, but I have to manage men and women in the field, of course,” she pointed out. “Over the years, I have attended many meetings with government officials over the years; gender is rarely mentioned, and even when it is, it is about marginalization, where gender = women.”
Ms. Jaramogi pointed to a disconnect, too, in the attitude of the State towards non-governmental organizations such as hers. Her organization is doing a good job in managing forests, she noted; so the Government and its agencies have become more “relaxed.” How often does this happen – the NGOs picking up the slack! “We requested a National Fire Plan,” noted Ms. Jaramogi. “It is still not done. Why isn’t the State doing what it is supposed to do? All these international agreements they sign and commitments made…” We can end that sentence for her!
Despite her past frustrations, Ms. Jaramogi was optimistic that the new tool will be helpful to her on her return, setting her on a firmer footing with stakeholders and partners. “I will know how to present this issue at planning meetings,” she observed. She will be able to address different target groups – whether it is academics, government officials or high school students – within the framework devised at the workshop.
Meanwhile, her priorities remain, firmly: “Educating people…and getting buy-in from the State.”
So yes – whoever we are talking to, we know that gender is what they call a “cross-cutting issue.” It impacts every sector of society in some way or other. Increasingly, climate change is also cross-cutting (surely, that is a “given” by now). As Suzanne Stanley put it:
Increasingly the discourse surrounding environmental issues and climate change, more broadly, has a focus on gender. When we talk about gender, we are not talking “men vs. women” or women alone. We are talking about vulnerable and marginalized groups. We must disaggregate the data and break it down into who they are, where they live, how old they are, what their social status is. We must also acknowledge that environmental concerns in communities vary considerably.
Indeed, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to designing effective climate change projects that incorporate gender considerations. That is because climate change affects each community unevenly and differently. But there must be a flexible, realistic template for future planning and project implementation.
Otherwise, meetings such as Ms. Jaramogi described will be stuck in a rut. And certainly, those working in Caribbean communities affected by deforestation, drought, floods, air pollution and other environmental ills will not see any solutions.
I would like to thank Mr. Leo Kiss from the Communications Team at the Commonwealth Foundation, who invited me to the discussion. He has been very kind, helpful (and patient, as this article has been long-promised!) and arranged for me to have a lovely lunch with participants. I am deeply grateful! If you would like more information on this meeting, do contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know he would be happy to hear from you.
P.S. The Commonwealth Foundation featured JET’s podcast on clean air and water earlier this year. The podcast is available for free online via iTunes and other major podcast platforms. Listen to it here: https://play.acast.com/s/commonwealthvoices/ or subscribe via iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/commonwealth-voices/id1451100982