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The Nobel Women's Initiative was established in 2006 by sister Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams, and Jody Williams. These women—representing North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa-bring together their extraordinary experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. Their goal is to meaningfully contribute to building peace by working together with women around the world. Please visit them online to learn more about their work: www.nobelwomensinitiative.org.


Nobel Women Can Lead the Way in Tackling
Development and Climate Challenges Together

By Wangari Maathai and Mary Robinson

The time has come for women leaders to influence the narrative on climate change and how we address its impacts. The devastating floods in Pakistan illustrate how natural and man-made disasters can in a matter of days wipe out years of development progress. The floods in Pakistan have affected 20 million people -- equal to the population of New York state -- or nearly two-thirds of Canada. And while Pakistan is ranked among the poorest countries in the world, this tragedy has deepened the desperation of people already struggling to feed families and fend off disease.

Pakistan's story is, unfortunately, not unique. It is being repeated today in countries around the globe.

Decades of environmental mismanagement, combined with the increasing impacts of climate change, are putting social and economic development efforts at risk. Changing precipitation patterns are skewing traditional seasons and undermining the agricultural rhythms of farmers. More frequent extreme weather events like droughts, hurricanes, floods and cyclones are damaging lives, livelihoods and infrastructure.

From scientists to economists, those studying the phenomena recognize that developing countries, whose economies are already precarious and where so many people, especially women, depend directly on the natural world for food, water and fuel, are being hardest hit. It is poorer households and communities and, in many countries, indigenous groups already pushed to the most marginal lands, who are least able to cope. Progress towards achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) over the past decade is now threatened by environmental risks that undermine the resilience, and deplete the resources, of households and governments alike.

This week world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York to take stock of progress towards achieving the MDGs over the past decade and agree on ways forward for the final five years to the 2015 targets. What hasn't been addressed sufficiently in the lead up to the MDG review is the fact that some of the biggest constraints to achieving these global development objectives - the impacts of climate change and other environment-related threats -- continue to be routinely sidelined in development policies and practice. Until this changes, there is little hope of permanent gains in many of the areas covered by the MDGs.

Women leaders must insist we address environmental and development challenges in tandem. That means, for example, integrating national MDG and Poverty Reduction Strategies with the national-level climate change adaptation plans of action being put in place in countries around the globe -- a process that happens all too infrequently today.

A more coherent approach also requires much greater attention and action to address the particular challenges facing women and girls and their role in advancing sustainable development. In Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions, drought exacerbated by climate change is contributing to chronic crop failures, deforestation and water shortages, with devastating impacts for girls and women. The primary food producers and procurers of water and fuel for cooking are women. Environmental changes are resulting in women being forced to travel farther to secure food, water and fuel for their families. This has been shown to have negative impacts on nutritional levels, educational attainment and work opportunities, to say nothing of quality of life issues overall.

But not only are women bearing the brunt of environmental and development setbacks -- they are also a powerful source of hope in tackling climate and other environmental threats, and their voices must be heard. As the success of the Greenbelt Movement in planting millions of trees in Kenya has demonstrated, women can be an extraordinary force for positive change. Their knowledge and experience are fundamental to mitigating the effects as well as adapting to the inevitable changes wrought in local communities by shifting climatic patterns.

The absence of women, particularly those from the global South, from national and international discussions and decision-making on climate change and development must change. The battle to protect the environment is not solely about technological innovation -- it is also about empowering women and their communities to hold their governments accountable for results. They can help ensure that other powerful actors such as the private sector act responsibly as well. To make a real difference, women need greater access to the education, resources and new technologies required to help design adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. Climate mitigation and adaptation strategies must be developed with women, not for them, and women must be involved alongside men in every stage of climate and development policy-making.

From the response in Pakistan to the UN Summit in New York, we must now recognize and act on the connections between climate change and development and ensure that women play a central role in shaping climate and environmental planning in the years ahead.

 

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This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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The Nobel Women's Initiative was established in 2006 by sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. We six women -- representing North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa -- have decided to bring together our extraordinary experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality.

Only 12 women in its more than 100 year history have been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is this sense of responsibility that has compelled us to create the Nobel Women’s Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world - work often carried out in the shadows with little recognition.

We believe that peace is much more than the absence of armed conflict. Peace is the commitment to equality and justice; a democratic world free of physical, economic, cultural, political, religious, sexual and environmental violence and the constant threat of these forms of violence against women – indeed against all of humanity.

It is the heartfelt mission of the Nobel Women’s Initiative to address and work to prevent the root causes of violence by spotlighting and promoting the efforts of women’s rights activists, researchers and organizations working to advance peace, justice and equality. By sharing a platform with these women, the NWI will spotlight their tireless work to prevent violence against women. By helping to advance the cause of women, we believe we advance all of humanity.

United by our desire to combat all forms of violence against women in all circumstances, we also recognize that specific issues for women vary around the world. One element of our work will be to sponsor international meetings of women every two years -- in a different region of the world -- to highlight issues of concern to women there. The objective of these meetings is to underscore our commonalities and differences by providing inclusive and energizing forums that ensure meaningful dialogue and networking by women’s rights activists around the world -- but with a view to action.

It is our commitment to action that brings us together. Therefore, our meetings will be linked with concrete work in the target region leading up to the conference, along with post-conference plans of action to address the issues addressed at the conference. In this way, the Nobel Women’s Initiative will support meaningful work on the ground.

We believe profoundly in the sharing of information and ideas. By networking and working together rather than in competition, we enhance the work of all. The Nobel Women’s Initiative is committed to supplementing and enhancing existing work and is determined to avoid duplicating the work of others. We want to open new ground for discussion, debate and change.

We hope you share our excitement about the potential of the Nobel Women’s Initiative to meaningfully contribute to building peace with justice and equality by working together with women around the world.

For more information, visit www.nobelwomensinitiative.org


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