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First-Ever Index Ranks Nations on Environment and Gender Equality

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As some of the greatest thinkers on climate change are gathered in Warsaw, Poland this week for the UN's Global Conference on Climate Change, the question is how much of a role women will play in moving the discussion forward. A new report being released there by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that women are the key to both developing strategies for mitigating climate change and for implementing them.

The IUCN's Environment and Gender Index, launching on November 19 -- Gender Day -- at the conference, ranks 72 developed and developing countries on how they are translating gender and environment mandates into national policy and planning. Iceland tops the rankings, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is at the very bottom. The United States ranks 14 out of 72.

Why did IUCN feel it was important to create the first-ever such index, particularly when much of the data they sought was lacking? "Our aim is to promote a culture of greater transparency and accountability, and to contribute to the full, effective and sustained implementation of international agreements on gender equality and women's rights," explains Lorena Aguilar, Global Senior Gender Advisor for IUCN.

The intersection of women and the environment is often overlooked, despite its prevalence. Women in many parts of the world face tremendous inequality in environmental areas - including in climate change, land tenure, water, agriculture, energy, forestry, coastal resources, and health and sanitation. Women make up the majority of the world's farmers in rural areas, but only 1% worldwide own land.

Ensuring that women's voices are heard is one of the motivators behind the Environment and Gender Index. But it's clear that much has to change for that to happen. The fact is that women often lead in innovative approaches to climate change, but seldom sit at decision-making tables. Women throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America are poised to lead in small-scale energy entrepreneurship, but the world's financing mechanisms do not yet reach them. For the past 20 years, governments have been making commitments to gender equality and women's empowerment in international environmental negotiations such as the Rio Conventions, but these commitments are not implemented. And no institution has monitored countries' progress until now.

The Environment and Gender Index will embarrass some countries and will embolden others to continue on the paths they've chosen. Women with innovative ideas and solutions to our planet's increasing environmental challenges will never be heard unless governments take seriously their commitments to gender equality. This new Index connects the dots between sustainability and gender equality. Those nations which score highest in the rankings - Iceland, Netherlands and Norway - can share their strategies with those who fare less well.

Most scientists agree that women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. As they attempt to address this in Warsaw, I urge them to have a copy of the Environment and Gender Index in their hands to ensure that women are also an integral part of the solutions.