Women’s equal participation in climate change decision-making is fundamental to just policies that reflect and respond to the needs of the global community.


The effects of gender imbalance amongst decision-makers go beyond headline statistics. The lack of power and influence wielded by women in public and political life is undermining progress towards a world where poverty is eradicated and men and women are able to build sustainable and secure futures for themselves and their families.” – VSO (2015) Women in Power: beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world

Throughout the past several years of the international climate change negotiations, alongside the establishment of a new sustainable development agenda, governments across the world have established and agreed that promoting gender equality and protecting women’s human rights are necessary to effective action on climate change toward peaceful and sustainable societies.

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where negotiations determine global climate policy, in 2019 women comprised 39% of all national Party delegations and served as 25% of the Heads of Delegations. Research shows that gender imbalances differ across countries and regions. Women’s participation in Eastern and Western Europe, for example, was approximately 52% and 48% in 2019, respectively, while women comprised 31% of African delegations and 34% in the Asia-Pacific region. These differences can also be seen when looking at participation by UNFCCC negotiating blocks, with countries from the African Group, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and OPEC having less representation of women on national delegations.

Women’s equal participation in climate change decision-making is fundamental to just policies that reflect and respond to the needs of the global community. Recognizing a need to support the participation and leadership of women in the UN climate negotiations, particularly from countries most affected by climate change, in 2009, the Government of Finland partnered with WEDO, UNDP and IUCN to form the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) and launch the Women Delegates Fund (WDF).During its history, the WDF has grown with the support of several other donors: the governments of Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland. The program is administered by WEDO.


Travel Support: First and foremost, the WDF works to address a gap in women’s participation, particularly focusing support toward Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that have already limited capacity and resources to attend and effectively participate in the climate negotiations. While recognizing that this kind of travel support cannot be used as the only means to address structural gender inequality in decision-making at the regional and national levels, it is an important equity measure to support women’s full and effective participation, which can also lead to greater awareness raising and more inclusive policy decisions.

“We talk about increasing women’s participation in decision-making, and the first step to do that should be to ensure that they are present.”Emelda Adam, Tanzania

Night School: In tandem with travel resources, the WDF prioritizes building leadership skills through knowledge and capacity building on technical issues related to the negotiations, including running mock sessions and practice in drafting interventions. Since 2012, the WDF has worked to develop comprehensive and sustained negotiation skills modules, including the institutionalization of a “Night School” (so named so because it is held in the evenings) during key preparatory and negotiating meetings.

“In the three years I have been coming to these negotiations, I have never once raised my flag to speak. The training really helped to bolster my confidence. In Bonn, I have raised my flag three times on behalf of my country.”Night School Participant

Regional Training: Since 2017, WEDO has hosted or co-hosted regional training workshops for women delegates in the Pacific (2017-2020), Asia (2017), the Caribbean (2017), and Francophone Africa (2018). These 3-4 day workshops expand on the leadership, diplomacy, and negotiating skills also covered during the Night School while deepening participants’ understanding of technical issues, particularly as pertain to their region. Additionally, participants, many of whom go on to be funded as delegates to UNFCCC sessions, cultivate deeper connections with their regional colleagues pursuing similar work.

“These workshops are building a cadre of Pacific Women negotiators, as well as ensuring our participation and inputs into the climate change negotiations and guaranteeing our informed and effective participation, not only in the immediate COP but in future UNFCCC negotiations.”Pacific Workshop Participant

Advocacy and Networking: A final and critical element of the WDF is advocacy, in particular by facilitating organizations and the delegates themselves, to highlight the importance of innovative strategies to enhance women’s leadership, and provide a platform for wider discussion on women’s leadership in decision-making, as well as to promote policy change at international and national levels. The WDF Network–hundreds strong–of women delegates who have been trained and/or funded through WDF, continues to serve as a platform for connection among this global cohort, as resources and opportunities are shared.

“[The WDF] creates the avenue for networking with delegates from other part of the world, understanding the role they are playing in their institutions, and what role you are also playing in your institution and your understanding about the process–what both of you can copy or learn from each other after networking. – Josephine F. Doles, Liberia

This is not a program aimed only at bringing women to the table, but in creating a step-change in the power dynamics of the UN climate negotiations, and in all relevant bodies, towards one which encompasses women’s and men’s equal right to participate in decision-making.


Travel Support: For supporting delegates’ travel to intersessionals and COPs, eligible Parties are identified through specificity of the donor or because they are LDCs, and WEDO provides information about funding through Parties’ UNFCCC National Focal Points. Delegates must be part of the official government delegation and be nominated by the Focal Points; however, the WDF Coordinator may nominate candidates to the Focal Points for their consideration. Increasingly, the WDF delegates are engaging in and being called upon as experts at home, in local, national and regional processes and planning. Therefore, preference is given to delegates whose participation can be secured over a number of years. Contact tara@wedo.org with any questions about the selection process.

Night School: Any delegate is eligible to attend a WDF Night School, usually hosted on the Friday and Saturday preceding an intersessional or COP. Invitations are distributed to the UNFCCC focal points for each country as well as through the listserv of the WDF Network and Women and Gender Constituency. Contact tara@wedo.org to be added to a notification of Night School sessions.

Regional Training: Participants attend regional trainings by invitation only, and regional trainings are scheduled and sited based on funding availability and the regional interest of the donor. WEDO works with UNFCCC National Focal Points to identify and invite participants.

Advocacy and Networking: Any delegate is welcome to join the WDF Listserv, where opportunities such as training events are shared. Contact tara@wedo.org to be added to the listserv.


“Our leadership reaches more than just here… we can go back home and translate what is happening at this level to those on the ground who are being directly impacted by climate change. We can serve as role models at all levels for the importance of women’s leadership and participation.”Sieane Abdul Baki, WDF Delegate first supported in 2009, who later became Deputy Minister of Gender in Liberia 

Since 2009, the WDF has supported 378 trips for 143 women across 67 countries to attend 34 sessions of the UNFCCC. Since 2012, ‘Night Schools’ have been held at the majority of these sessions, and 500+ women have been trained in technical language and negotiations skills. The impact of the WDF transcends these numbers and encompasses delegates’ valuable contributions to international and national climate policy, planning, and implementation, as well as their mentorship and serving as role models for new generations of climate leaders, while highlighting the undeniable significance of achieving gender equality in decision-making.


During the time the WDF program has been operating, both support for the basic foundation of women’s participation and women’s participation itself has increased.

In the last 11 years, there has been an overall, though not consistent, increase in women’s participation in the process, both in general participation and at the highest levels of decision-making. The annual percentage of women delegates increased from 32% in 2008 to 39% in 2019, and women Heads of Delegation rose from 16% to 25%. This progress can be attributed to various factors: the adoption of decisions promoting women’s participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts at the UNFCCC, the implementation of gender quotas and the introduction of climate change and gender plans at the national level, as well as the introduction of initiatives such as the WDF to enhance women’s leadership in climate change negotiations and broader awareness-raising efforts.

In 2017, these efforts, alongside strong advocacy from the Women and Gender Constituency, contributed to the adoption of the first UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP). This initial GAP, as well as the enhanced Lima Work Programme on Gender and its GAP adopted in 2019, demonstrate both the recognition and integration of the principles and impact of the WDF. Priority Area B in the GAP (2020-2024) highlights two goals to which the WDF contributes:

B.1 Promote initiatives for capacity-building in leadership, negotiation and facilitation of negotiation for women delegates, including through webinars and in-session training to enhance women’s participation in the UNFCCC process

B.2 Promote travel funds as a means of supporting the equal participation of women in all national delegations at UNFCCC sessions, as well as funds to support the participation of grass-roots local and indigenous peoples’ communities from developing countries, the least developed countries and small island developing States and encourage Parties and relevant organizations to share information on travel funding

“The WDF makes us ambassadors for women across all areas of the negotiations. Other countries now want to increase the women on their delegations and even just by being in the room, we are helping to ensure that gender remains in the language of the text.”WDF Delegate, Bangladesh


  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the Netherlands (2016-2020)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Finland via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2009-2016)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Iceland (2012-2015)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the Netherlands (2015)

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