Very unique—a woman in the predominantly male Nepalese government—Meena
Khanal of Kathmandu, Nepal always dreamed that she would work for her country, traveling the world and serving those in need of aid. Passionate about protecting the natural environment and helping the people of Nepal, Meena’s career took her from working at the Ministry of Tourism to her position today, the Joint Secretary, of the Ministry of Environment and its Gender Focal Point.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than eighty percent of its total area falls in the rural sector, and women’s daily activities in these areas—like water, food, and fuel collection— depend on natural resources that are at risk due to changes in precipitation and temperature patterns, variations which cause flood, drought, and ecosystem degradation. Women generally lack access to the opportunities and resources that are available to men: they have less access to an education, less social and political status, and make less pay for the same work. All of these factors make Nepalese women particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Meena’s journey has been revelatory with regard to gender, both in the personal barriers she faces and the lens through which she views her work. “At COP13, it seemed that the prevailing belief was that in terms of climate change, gender didn’t matter,” says Meena. Having received a post-graduate diploma in Women’s Studies, Meena set out to research the linkages between gender and climate change, particularly in the context of Nepal.

Meena felt compelled to be part of the UNFCCC process and ensure there was a women representative on the delegation. In 2009, this was made possible through the support of the Women Delegates Fund. However, getting to the meetings was only the first step. Meena still found it challenging to find her place in the negotiations and meaningfully engage in the process; “At the beginning, it was often difficult to have a voice in the outcomes.” Feeling like she had a support network and access to capacity building was integral to Meena’s success at the meetings. Says Meena,“Having the support of other women delegates as well as the capacity building I gained in the WDF program has enhanced my confidence to be able to participate fully in the UNFCCC process.”

In 2010, Meena’s strengthened confidence led her to propose and deliver an intervention for gender considerations in the subsidiary body negotiations of the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), which were accepted into the final text. She was also recently appointed the National Project Director of the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience. “I feel empowered and satisfied that I’m being heard. If it were not for the support of the WDF, I don’t believe I would have this opportunity.”

A mother of two who loves to cook, do needlework and spend time with her family, Meena continues to plug away at the environmental issues plaguing the women of Nepal. She feels that climate change issues and international affairs are still maledominated fields—microcosms of a male-dominated world—and she hopes that women will continue to flourish through the WDF.

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