WEDO delegates attended the UNITAR-Yale Conference on Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Post-2015 Development Agenda, and the Future Climate Regime that took place from 5-7 September 2014. The Conference brought together more than 100 scholars and policy experts to discuss the nexus between human rights and the environment and built on more than 70 paper submissions from researchers and expert practitioners from 40 different countries. The goals of the conference were to inform: the discussion on Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda; the negotiation of the new climate change regime under the UNFCCC; the World Conference on Indigenous People; and the 2015 report of the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment.

The Conference featured in-depth discussions on paper contributions in parallel sessions and then subsequent plenary sessions in which larger policy conclusions from the parallel sessions were discussed. WEDO Fellow Yeniva Massaquoi presented a paper titled “Gender Equality, Human Rights and Environmental Integrity in the New Climate Agreement and Post-2015 Development Agenda”. The paper problematizes the issues of mainstreaming and implementing women’s human rights and then advocates for the meaningful integration of women’s human rights into sustainable development frameworks, including in the post-2015 agenda and the new climate change agreement. In keeping with the conference theme, the paper attempted to strengthen the women’s human rights-environment interface at the international level.

The Conference itself provided a broad cross-section of perspectives on the human rights based approach to environmental governance. In the first plenary session, lawyers, environmental rights defenders, academics and practitioners came together to contextualize key environmental governance issues through real world examples. For example, Phyllis Omido – an environmental rights defender from Kenya – detailed her struggles to publicize the environmental violations of her former employer at great risk to her safety and security. Specifically, Phyllis outlined how she was attacked and later falsely arrested as a result of her activism. Human Rights Watch lawyer, Jane Cohen, spoke about her work assisting Phyllis through these altercations. Crucial to this plenary session was the emphasis on building strategic partnerships – across specialties, national/international, etc. (such as between Phyllis and Jane) – in order to generate robust solutions for environmental governance.

Apart from the WEDO panel, there were several other opportunities at the Conference to consider environmental issues from a gender perspective. A high level policy summary from these panels indicates that a key issue on many conference delegates’ minds was the need to move away from the classification of women as a ‘vulnerable class’. While some debated whether this was merely a semantic argument, the majority of conference delegates agreed at the final plenary session that a final key obstacle to effective gender mainstreaming is the fact that women are often seen as victims rather than as change agents or as participants and stakeholders in driving solutions. To move away from framing women as a ‘vulnerable class’ is therefore not merely a semantic argument but is in fact a means of reinforcing the notion that women are active agents for change within the sustainable development framework.

Other key gender-focused conference policy outcomes (advocated for through our paper) included the need to:

  • Have an institutional culture that is open to gender perspectives and willing to take self-evaluative steps to ensure its goals are met;
  • Have political commitment at the highest levels;
  • Collect, analyze and use sex disaggregated data;
  • Deploy adequate human and financial resources to mainstream women’s human rights; and
  • Understand gender mainstreaming as a fluid concept involving evolving responsibility

In sum, the Conference was a valuable opportunity to explore the human rights/environment interface by evaluating the constitutional rights underlying this issue, investigating specific examples and advocating for the strengthening of international human rights/environment regimes. More on the conference and submitted papers can be found here:


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