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International Women's Day interview: 'I cannot help but be hopeful'

March 6, 2020

Gabriella Richardson Temm

Gabriella Richardson Temm leads the Global Environment Facility’s efforts to ensure that gender is systematically addressed in GEF-funded projects and programs, and to coordinate such efforts across the GEF partnership. In an interview, she reflected on her professional path and shared her hopes for International Women’s Day 2020.

Q: When did you first realize that gender and environmental issues are linked?

A:  I knew early on that there was an important connection there. I studied sociology and I studied economics, and I was never satisfied with either discipline on its own. I had the chance to travel to Botswana with a SIDA grant and I was able to look at the impacts there of European Union agricultural trade policies, specifically around beef agreements. It was clear almost right away that to get a full picture, I needed to speak with both men and women in farming communities – as they were experiencing and observing different impacts, including with regards to environmental conditions. I had to ask different questions because of differences in their roles, needs, responsibilities, control over community resources, and so on. And it turned out that among small-scale cattle farming communities, women benefited less and were more negatively impacted by unintended consequences of the policy such as the encroachment of larger-scale cattle farming. This was because of factors like access to land, the pricing women would yield for cattle, and incentives for selling their cattle. As a young researcher, I also saw the impact of veterinary cordon fences on wildlife and the environment. I could see how it was all connected – and later as I continued pursuing my Ph.D. I felt compelled to focus on the intersection of economic policy, environmental sustainability, and social development, including gender.

Q: Can you describe your professional path that led to you this role at the GEF?

A: After graduate school I had an opportunity to help IUCN develop new frameworks and practical approaches to integrate livelihood and gender considerations in its projects worldwide. During my time there, IUCN become one of the first international environmental organizations to have a gender mainstreaming policy. Later I ended up heading the IUCN country office in Zambia, which was great as it allowed me work on many different environmental topics, connecting environment and development policy goals and learning about the challenges of translating this into the design and implementation of projects on the ground. Later on, I spent years at WWF working on the intersection of the environment and social development, leading their poverty and environment program, serving as the director at their Macroeconomics for Sustainable Development program office, and, among many other things, developing their first gender policy in 2011. What attracted to me to the GEF was its scale – I’d had experience working with one agency at the time, but here was a chance to work directly with 18 agencies as they figure out how best to catalyze gender-responsive projects in pursuit of global environmental benefits. It was a tremendous opportunity to have an impact. One of the first things I did was to help create the GEF Gender Partnership – a platform for focal points across the partnership, including agencies, conventions, civil society representatives, and institutions such as UN Women to work together on ways to mainstream gender into environmental action and planning worldwide. The GEF continues to benefit from the combined expertise of this partnership which I feel it is more and more serving as a global community of practice on gender and the environment.

Q: How did the Open Online Course on Gender and the Environment come into being?

A: The Open Online Course came about from a collaboration with the UNDP-managed GEF Small Grants program and the GEF Secretariat. What made the course so successful was the collaboration with the GEF Gender Partnership – we brought together expertise across the international community about why it’s important to think about, measure, and analyze gender impacts – both expected and unintended – from environmental projects. The e-course covers approaches to mainstreaming gender considerations in multiple areas, including biodiversity, climate change, land degradation, international waters, chemicals, and others. It is a tremendous resource and something we can continue to build on. Just thinking about the fact that over 11,000 people already has taken this course makes me very happy.

Q: What is the GEF’s Gender Policy and why is it important?

A: The GEF Policy on Gender Equality was approved by the GEF Council in 2017, and marked an important shift in how the GEF approached gender equality and women’s empowerment in its strategy and project cycle. It recognizes that men and women use natural resources differently and that environmental conditions have different impacts on men and women. GEF’s new Policy on Gender Equality shifted from a “do no harm” approach to gender mainstreaming focused on safeguards toward one focused on, when possible, doing good – finding opportunities to address gender gaps and support the empowerment of women. The new equality policy introduces more robust standards in the design, implementation and evaluation of GEF activities – for instance, requiring that early concept notes include a preliminary investigation into the gender dimensions of a project, and requiring more detailed analysis and the collection and use of gender-disaggregated data as the project progresses toward approval and monitoring. We want every project to be gender-informed, and when possible, ensure that our projects implement responsive measures that give women and men equal opportunities to contribute and benefit from them. Some challenges moving forward remain, including how to address knowledge and capacity gaps. Perhaps more importantly as a partnership we need to figure out how we best can identify and catalyze gender-responsive actions that deliver environmental benefits, and to better capture the impact and results of this approach.

Q: What do you feel optimistic about?

Working on the intersection on environment and development for over 15 years, I am thrilled to see that, today, most global environmental organizations genuinely recognize that to be effective there is a need to connect economic, environmental and social goals.  I cannot help to be hopeful as I look at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that is making the case that environmental sustainability, inclusion, empowerment and equality are mutually supportive.

Q: Do you have an International Women’s Day wish?

A: I have many. I wish for a world that is more equal, sustainable, and fair.  I would like women to have the same legal rights as men, and I would like for my daughter and all other girls and women around the world to have the same opportunities. I wish that families, communities, and countries will find ways to prevent violence against women. I would like to wake up on an International Women’s Day years from now, when I am in my eighties, in a world that is more sustainable and equitable.

To learn more about the GEF’s work in gender, please visit: https://www.thegef.org/topics/gender