woman and glass ceilingWhen will we finally break through this damn glass ceiling?U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced an important new climate change financing group last week, but out of the 19 people named, no women were included. This is unfortunate because women will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change and are key to any climate solutions. 

The group is tasked with investigating potential sources of revenue to support developing countries in their efforts to cope with the impacts of climate change and the shift to low-carbon development pathways. The Copenhagen negotiations in December called for $30 billion in climate financing for 2010 to 2012, ramping up to $100 billion annually by 2020.

The secretary-general’s choices for the advisory group will bring intellectual energy and political gravitas. The group is chaired by U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It includes two additional heads of state, ministers of finance, and leaders of central banks. Taking part are financier and philanthropist George Soros and economist Sir Nicholas Stern. It includes equal representation between industrialized countries and developing countries (though only two smaller, highly vulnerable developing countries). But what it does not include at all is women.

Leaving women out is unfortunate and reflects a persistent bias in climate change decision-making roles. It is also unwise given the ultimate objective of the advisory group. This elite club will frame and shape climate change financial flows to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. We know that women are disproportionately represented among both of these groups and are often on the front lines of climate change.   In developing countries, because of their role as primary providers of food, water, and fuel for their families, women are both the most affected by climate change and a pivotal force for building responses to direct climate impacts.   We also know that women are frequently the decision-makers about household consumption, and represent an increasing share of wealth around the world.

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By leaving their voices out of the critical tasks before this advisory group, the secretary-general is closing out opportunities to explore the widest possible range of creative and innovative sources of revenue on the scale that is needed to address climate change.

The secretary-general himself has noted the need to include women in all aspects of decision-making on climate change. In a speech last September, he called on member states “to foster an environment where women are key decision makers on climate change, and play an equally central role in carrying out these decisions…We must do more to give greater say to women in addressing the climate challenge.”  So why have they been ignored yet again?

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The secretary-general and the co-chairs of the advisory group can correct this by expanding the membership of the group to include meaningful representation of female officials before the group’s first meeting in London at the end of the month.

It is impossible to believe that the secretary-general couldn’t find any women with expertise to participate. On today, International Women’s Day, we hope the secretary-general reconsiders the membership of this important group.


Elizabeth Becker is a member of the board of Oxfam America.  Suzanne Ehlers is interim president of Population Action International.