From Gender Blind to Gender Bind: Political Strategies of the Women and Gender Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Joanna Flavell


This thesis argues that the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been remarkable in its efforts to mainstream gender into the UNFCCC. The Constituency has worked tirelessly to embed a gender perspective into global climate politics and has been the driving force for the UNFCCC’s progression from being gender-blind in 1992 to needing a Gender Action Plan (GAP) in 2017. However, an ‘insider’ approach to influencing the negotiations has meant that the WGC as an advocacy group has over-relied on universalising and simplistic rhetorical strategies that tend to frame gender as meaning women and to foreground women’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. This has come at the expense of more intersectional arguments about the relationality of identities that cut across multiple and intersecting lines of marginalisation and oppression. Starting with feminist environmental theorists who have problematised the kinds of rhetorical strategies mobilised by the WGC, my aim in this thesis is to develop a greater understanding of why the Constituency has relied on such strategies and how this understanding can inform future activism in the UNFCCC. Through a conceptual framework that integrates the natural world (including attention to a changing climate) into intersectional critical inquiry and political praxis, I have analysed hundreds of historical documents, coupled with elite interviews and observations from two UNFCCC conferences. This uncovers a previously untold story about the history of the UNFCCC that foregrounds gender and feminist activism. This story highlights the importance of the WGC in shaping dominant narratives of global climate governance through a series of rhetorical and procedural strategies. While these strategies have certainly relied on universalising and simplistic framings of ‘gender’ there is evidence that the Constituency is increasingly trying to make more intersectional arguments about difference. However, the WGC and its members have lacked the procedural strategies through which to mobilise these kinds of arguments. Based on this analysis, I reflect that intersectional practice in the UNFCCC is hard! The WGC has been caught in a bind: how can feminists make collective political demands while remaining committed to intersectional feminism? I argue that greater integration between ideas and action in the UNFCCC could offer more fruitful strategies to overcome this bind in a next phase of feminist activism in the UNFCCC.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2021