Climate Finance for Feminist Activism: Showcasing Success, Imagining Possibilities

Written by: Hilary Clauson

Climate change, environment, and disaster risk reduction was the theme of the 66th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66). Feminists have long stressed the urgency of the climate crisis, as well as its relationship with gender justice concerns. Women, young women, girls, and non-binary people are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis – and are developing and implementing necessary responses to it. 

On the eve of CSW66, four feminist organizations convened an event to spotlight a key action related to the CSW theme: Finance women’s rights organizations and feminist movements working at the intersection of gender and climate justice. The event, Climate Finance and Feminist Activism, featured women’s rights activists showcasing their organizations’ powerful climate actions and posing questions to various actors supporting this crucial work. 

Event Highlights

We cannot afford to continue using scarce funds in ways that do not favour local communities and the environment, not only because it is an open violation to human rights… but because it is a serious mismanagement of scarce and much-needed financial resources.

Florencia Ortúzar, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense

The current climate finance framework is complicated, tedious, and does not take into account the wisdom and knowledge of those who work in the grassroots.

Divya Rajagopal Sarkar, student, University of Toronto

Women’s rights organizations and feminist movements tackle the climate crisis in diverse ways. 

Integrated Health Outreach Inc. in Antigua and Barbuda supports women to secure climate smart, sustainable livelihoods through beekeeping, a traditionally male-dominated industry. Forest Action Nepal is researching how to transform women’s access to and control over forest resources, including through women’s representation and leadership in forest management policy spaces. The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense advocates for all climate finance projects to consult with and be led by local communities. And the South Rupununi District Council stewards the natural bounty of the Wapichan Territory of Guyana, a carbon sink threatened by mining interests. 

These organizations and many more address the root causes of the climate crisis, like patriarchy, colonialism and the unequal distribution of power, and work across intersecting issues. Their interventions are not limited to narrow definitions of mitigation and adaptation. 

For more examples of locally-driven solutions with gender equality and women’s rights at their heart, see the Women and Gender Constituency’s Gender Just Climate Solutions.

The climate finance system creates barriers to funding women’s rights organizations and feminist movements. 

Government of the Netherlands’ representative René van Hell called a 2017 OECD statistic an “alarm bell” – just 0.5% of official development assistance reached women’s organizations directly, which does not even speak to climate finance specifically. While the Government of the Netherlands prioritizes locally-led climate solutions, van Hell acknowledged the difficulty in managing small, locally-based programs, and the “efficiency” in working through multilateral institutions and large climate funds. 

Global Greengrants Fund’s Laura García noted that government funding is not always accessible to local community organizations, especially if they are not registered and lack dedicated fundraising staff. 

To overcome such barriers, students from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy recommended: channeling funding directly to regional women’s organizations; providing microgrants if grant amounts exceed what smaller women’s organizations need; and offering capacity building and knowledge sharing support to help women’s organizations navigate the system and qualify for climate finance. 

Mechanisms exist to resource women’s rights organizations and feminist movements working on climate justice. 

Fortunately, a number of mechanisms are already successfully resourcing women’s rights organizations and feminist movements for gender and climate justice, and offer options and inspiration to scale up support. 

Van Hell highlighted the Netherlands-funded Power of Voices program, where the Netherlands enters into “strategic partnerships” with consortia of organizations, some of which, like the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), have a gender and climate justice focus. García called GAGGA a great example of the “democratization of resources for grassroots environmental activists.” She also held up the role of women’s funds and intermediary funders to connect government donors and large foundations to grassroots women-led organizations on the frontlines of the climate action struggle.

Two important upcoming initiatives are the Government of Canada’s Partnering for Climate and the Global Alliance for Sustainable Feminist Movements, a multi-stakeholder initiative that came out of the Generation Equality Forum.

The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions urges governments and other relevant stakeholders to increase public and private financing to women’s civil society organizations (including young women’s girls’ and youth-led organizations and feminist groups) for climate change, environmental, and disaster risk reduction initiatives. 

But as Laura García flagged,

It is increasingly evident that to save our planet, we must move beyond words and take action.

Let’s turn Agreed Conclusions into action – gender-just climate action. 

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