Friday, February 08, 2013

Inclusive growth excluding women? Stop kidding!

I just returned from the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS 2013) in New Delhi. And I can tell you this: it was a man's world!

Photo courtesy: Morten Svenningsen

Consider this: a mega 3-day event where a galaxy of stars descending from across the globe on hotel Taj Palace, rubbing shoulders with each other, speaking, sharing ideas and strategies on how to build a sustainable economy that will help us get green, inclusive growth.

(Actually, the event was a follow up on the Rio Earth summit 2012. Therefore, the slogan was 'The future we want.')

And, speaking about the 'future we want' were 101 speakers. Of them, 89 were men.
That's right. Of the 104 speakers deliberating on the future we want, there were no more than 12 women.

What does this tell us? that women don't matter? that, there are no women experts who have enough know how on green growth or green economy or renewable, clean energy?  or, that, the organizers did not think it was a big deal if there were only a  token representation of women at an important meeting such as this?

I would have been happy to ask these questions. But the farthest I got to go was pointing out the 89:12 ratio to  Dr R K Pachauri - one of the most renowned environmentalists of our time, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and head of The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) - the organizer of the event. Guess what - Dr Pachauri was NOT happy. Not happy at all.

 He thought, I was being vicious. And 'sensational' by looking at what's missing and ignoring at what was available: a huge pool of experts.

And then he told me this: "we invited many women. 3 of them are Nobel laureates. But they did not want to travel. What can we do?"

So, here's something we learn: women are not inlcuded in big summits/conferences because they don't want to travel.

Alright then. Let's walk back a few more weeks. To Doha. To the United Nations Climate Change summit or COP18.

Doha summit 2012: Leaders/ chief negotiators of all the groups - Small Island Nations, LDC, EU,  US and BRIC (absent in the picture)  - were all men

In this biggest policy making forum on combating climate change, the  overall percentage of official delegates and negotiators was only 32%, according to a report released by Women's Environment and Development Organization.

The number of women in the individual country's team of delegations was also appallingly low - just 5%.

But one did not really need to read a report to notice the invisibility of women: all around me, whether it was in plenary halls where the main negotiations took place, or side events, all I saw were men. In some side events, there wasn't a single woman in a panel that had as many as 8 panelists!

Walking back a little more, Rio de Janeiro hosted the Earth Summit - the place of origin for that 'the future we want' slogan - in last June.

Rio Earth Summit 2012: how many women can you see? (Photo source: Flickr: UN_Photo_ Conference)

I wasn't at the summit, but if reports are any proof, the gender imbalance was quite prominent there - the reason why UN women took a special initiative and signed a special plead for action for a sustainable future. It read 'the future women want...'

Coming back to DSDS 2013, I would certainly hope that someone next year would give a similar call to include a balanced representation of women. 

And I also certainly hope that Dr Pachauri will not find it sensational reporting when someone talks about that call, or the gender imbalance in his otherwise great event.

In all honesty,  terms like 'inclusive growth' sounds ridiculously hollow when women continue to be largely excluded from the discussion.

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