Build on Existing Frameworks to Improve Women’s Lives, Deputy Secretary-General Tells High-Level Gender Caucus at Conference on Desertification

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Gender Caucus high-level event “In pursuit of gender equality for strong land stewardship”, in Abidjan today:

I am delighted to join this high-level event.  This Gender Caucus, the very first day of the UNCCD COP15, provides a precious space to discuss how to turn women’s rights and gender equality into actions.

As we meet today, inequality and environmental degradation continue to threaten the lives and well-being of millions across the globe.  Human activities have already altered 70 per cent of land, and every other person on earth is negatively affected by the loss and degradation of the soil that feeds us.

More than 1.5 billion people were affected by droughts between 1998 and 2017.  No region of the world is spared.  And droughts are increasing in scope and frequency due to climate change and our unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

Throughout, it is women and girls who are most affected by intensified drought, desertification and land degradation.  By the time we complete the first hour of this meeting, women and girls would have spent more than 8 million hours of time walking back-breaking long distances to collect water.  In some cases, women spend more than an hour per day just fetching water.  Only to find out that this water is unfit for consumption, causing disease and sometimes death.

In addition, women make up more than half of the world’s agricultural workforce and play a key role in the health of the land.  Agriculture remains the most important employment sector for women in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.  However, less than 13 per cent of agricultural landholders are women.  Millions of women are denied the right to own the land on which they live, work and care for their families.

Discrimination related to land tenure, credit access, equal pay and decision-making are widespread, leading to increasing trends of poverty and inequality.  As a result, the gender food security gap widened significantly, from 6 per cent in 2019 to 10 per cent in 2020.  COVID-19 has devastated global food and nutrition systems and increased food prices, causing more women and girls to confront hunger and undernourishment.  A situation that is poised to worsen considerably because of the war in Ukraine.

We must break this cycle.  The UNCCD study we are launching today focuses on the differentiated impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought.  It presents sobering conclusions and identifies opportunities for action.  It finds, for instance, that 38 million widows live in extreme poverty in the world, notably due to disinheritance practices.  Having lost their loved ones, they are often left with children to care for and educate.  Yet, in more than 100 countries, there is still a form of denial of their husbands’ property.

Without ambition and determination, nothing will change.  We must build on existing frameworks to improve the lives of women, which, in turn, improves the lives of all.  In a landmark resolution in 2021, the Human Rights Council recognized the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and encouraged States to protect these rights for all people, including all women.  And at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, Member States agreed that this link between gender equality and the environment is fundamental for sustainable development, and that we can’t achieve one without the other.

It is no longer the time for commitments and promises.  It is time for action.  I would like to highlight some key steps we can take today:  First, we need women at all decision-making tables — from villages to town halls.  Let us stop the marginalization of women’s leadership and increase their participation in decision-making on issues related to climate change, including environmental and disaster risk-reduction policies and programmes.  Women play a crucial role in building resilient communities, by finding innovative solutions, maintaining traditional resource conservation techniques, and spreading knowledge and urging action on land degradation.

Second, it is critical that we design, develop and implement gender‑responsive sustainable development and land management frameworks, agricultural and rural development policies, and early-warning systems that respond to the needs and priorities of rural women and girls.

Third, we must turbocharge efforts to eliminate the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence that women and girls face, especially rural women.  And we must promote and ensure the availability of gender-responsive finance mechanisms to support the rights, needs and priorities of rural women and girls.

Achieving gender equality by 2030 requires urgent action to eliminate the many root causes of discrimination.  Sustainable land management, the very objective of UNCCD, is a key enabler of these efforts.  It can create sustainable livelihood opportunities for women and girls around the world, including women small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities, women-led businesses and entrepreneurs.  And it can catalyse women’s and girls’ contributions towards restoring balance with nature.

I commend your leadership and commitment across all of these efforts.  The outcome document of this Caucus — “The Abidjan Declaration on Achieving Gender Equality for Successful Land Restoration” — will serve as a compass to all of us.  I am also confident that all leaders present here today will use their voices and leadership to highlight the fundamental role of women and girls in land restoration, to achieve inclusive sustainable development for all.  Thank you all for contributing to this important goal.

For information media. Not an official record.