By Dr. Swadesh M Rana, WIIS Member*
Reliable data is still missing on how many more women may have become game changers if their lives were not cut short as collateral damage or indirect casualties of the post World War Two armed conflicts across the globe. Fought largely by men, the nature of these conflicts has changed from bipolar cold war confrontations for areas of influence, to inter-state border disputes over contested territorial frontiers, to intra-state military action by the state against armed insurgencies, to independent or state sponsored acts of terror by non-state actors, to societies at war with themselves. But be it though desertification, tidal flooding, loss of marine bio-diversity or total annihilation of small island developing states, never before in history has the entire world faced an existential challenge that is as planetary in scope, as imminent in probability and as totally immune to be overcome by superior military power as the looming hazards of climate change.
And yet, a turning point seems around the corner now to witness the fuller potential of women in spearheading an effective movement for dealing with climate change as a non-military threat to international security. Taking the initial step in that direction is a teenager Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who first asked why the world’s youth should invest in a future that may not be there for them to enjoy. Belonging to the largest ever generation of youth population in human history, of which virtually half are women, she has been joined worldwide in demanding that the climate change agenda accords priority attention to transformative change for lasting impact. Included therein are: faster progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy; reversal of deforestation; safeguarding the world’s oceans along with preserving bio-diversity; and ensuring the sustainability of agriculture to literally and metaphorically feed humanity. With collective chants and individual posters the world’s youth are also committing to reduce and recycle plastic that is used mostly for packaging. The world currently consumes 160,000 plastic bags a second that, if placed one after another, would go around the globe 7 times per hour.
Just three days ahead of the United Nations Action Summit of world leaders on “Global Climate” in New York on September 23, millions of youth took to the streets in 150 countries to articulate their concerns and expectations: with a 5-year-old holding his mother’s hand among the youngest. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez expects the Climate Action Summit to deliver ‘concrete, realistic’ plans to reach a goal of zero emissions by 2050. That goal is certainly more ambitious than earlier global commitments to bring emissions down to levels below the industrial revolution. The time frame of 30 years is long enough for the teenagers of today to seek accountability through a mid-term assessment of what they are demanding and committing to do. Salutations are due already for all the women who initiated the process as game changers and all the men who readily joined in. Ranking high on the double criteria of imminence and probability, non-military threats like climate change are no gender discriminators when it comes to collateral and indirect casualties.
*Dr. Swadesh M Rana is the Former Senior Political Analyst in the Executive Office of Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, she was the Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch in the Department of Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations. A Gold Medalist for Masters in Political Science from the Punjab University in Chandigarh, she holds a Ph.D in international affairs from the Jawaharlal Lal Nehru University in New Delhi.