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HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM: Using a Rights-Based Framework in Climate Change Negotiations

By Eleanor Blomstrom*

As advocates working in the international arena, at WEDO, we consider the human rights framework a key driver of our advocacy to improve the lives of women worldwide. A human rights framework recognizes a shared humanity, irrespective of culture or nationality, in which every person has basic rights to life, health, livelihood, food, shelter, etc. By focusing on such a framework for women's rights, advocates are not as encumbered by national or local laws or culture as they would be using the civil rights approach. Rather, international agreements provide the common language, guidelines and discussion forum for women's issues. Further, the human rights approach to advancing women's, gender and sexual rights may influence the development of more specific civil rights legislation at a national level.

Women worldwide continue to be marginalized, forgotten or excluded entirely from decision-making processes on many sustainable development issues, in spite of agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which holds signatory countries accountable for specific actions to promote women's rights and legislation to ensure equal treatment and participation. But, using a rights-based framework helps to insist that women and men have equal access to, inter alia, information, decision-making and benefits related to sustainable development programmes, projects and funds.

Currently, we are seeing some success of a human rights lens in the climate change negotiations. Gender advocacy has successfully highlighted the human rights implications of not recognizing the differing impacts of climate change on women and men, as well as the importance of creating systems to recognize women's knowledge and achievements in combating climate change, to empower women to confront it, to ensure women’s participation and to reduce their vulnerability to its impacts. As of December 2010, the negotiation text includes women's rights in the areas of adaptation, mitigation, capacity building and technology. The success of the international advocacy is underscored by countries who are taking steps in their national climate plans to specifically address gender issues. However, the struggle remains to ensure that, in practice, women contribute to decision-making processes.

*Eleanor is the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Coordinator for the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) where she focuses on capacity building, women’s leadership, project management and research in the pursuit of gender-responsive sustainable development.

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