The irony of waiting in a 20-long queue for the toilets on Gender and Water day did not escape many of the women I spoke to while I was waiting in the queue myself. “The world”, said the woman in front of me, who works in South East Asian sustainable finance, “is largely built by and for men”.
It was a conversation I had already had many times that day, starting with a taxi ride that I was very kindly offered by some of the Canadian delegation when the free COP bus sailed past us, as we waited in the already-scorching sun in the early Egyptian morning. As I chatted to one of the women in the delegation, as we squashed ourselves in, we noted how pretty much everything, including the taxi, is designed for men. And that’s unlikely to change until more women become designers and engineers in what are still pretty highly male sectors (although that is slowly changing).
However, the range of discussions taking place today shows that there are many advocates for gender equality. The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr. Thérèse Coffey, said governments should use their bargaining power to ensure gender-based rights are recognised by multi-lateral funding bodies, and in the same session, we heard powerful voices for women from two people working to effect change in their own communities. Catherine from Kenya pointed out that if a man grows a tree in her community, he grows it for profit. If a woman grows a tree, she grows it for firewood and food. Mallie, who works with communities in South America, said that traditional knowledge, held by women, provides the solutions to some of the crises we face.
Water is not just an issue for individual countries - it crosses borders, regions, and even continents, making cross-border cooperation all the more important. The Water Pavilion hosted a series of conversations about how important cross-border cooperation is to find sustainable solutions. This involves sometimes putting national interests aside and thinking about how to protect these irreplaceable resources collectively.
Very much like the COP process, in fact, which continues in the meeting rooms and delegation area away from the pavilions. My friend close to the process agrees that, as always, the negotiations will “go to the wire”.
We will be here for a while yet, I suspect.
Posted on 14th November 2022
Written by Sarah Mukherjee MBE
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