Beyond Rhetoric: Unveiling the Climate, Women, and Tokenism

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Caption: Some of Indonesia’s 2019-2024 female parliamentarians pose with their colleagues in front of the parliament building. Source:

by  IGG Maha Adi*

In the shadow of post-UN Climate Change Convention/COP28 and in the intricate tapestry of Indonesia’s socio-political landscape, the confluence of women, climate, and tokenism has emerged as a poignant issue, challenging the nation’s commitment to substantive change. Despite laudable statistics – 30% women in parliament, a dedicated ministry for women empowerment and child protection, and another ministry with a director general addressing climate change control – the reality remains stark.

The intersection of women and climate in Indonesia is not navigated by meaningful programs but rather languishes in the rhetoric of political promises, leaving women ill-prepared to confront the disproportionate impacts of climate change.

On the surface, Indonesia appears to have embraced the global discourse surrounding women and climate, echoing commitments to empowerment and resilience. However, as one delves deeper, it becomes evident that these promises are ephemeral, dissipating amidst the political maneuvering that characterizes the nation’s governance.

The numerical representation of women in parliament, often touted as a benchmark for gender inclusivity, falls short of ensuring that legislative outcomes are robustly gender-based. This deficiency is particularly glaring when examining laws addressing the intricate interplay between women and climate. The mere presence of women in parliamentary seats does not guarantee that the resulting legislation strengthens the position of women in confronting climate change disasters.

A stark example of this paradox is the approval of the 2020 Omnibus Law, a legislative move that not only failed to fortify the rights of female workers but exacerbated their vulnerabilities. This incongruity between policy and practice perpetuates a cycle of poverty and violence against women, highlighting the disconnection between rhetoric and the lived experiences of women in Indonesia.

While the nation prides itself on having a ministry specifically dedicated to women and children; it is the implementation of initiatives that truly reflects a commitment to addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by women, particularly in the context of climate change.

Similarly, the ministry tasked with addressing climate change control has shown a similar inconsistency between rhetoric and action. Despite listing gender responsive as a focal program, there is a conspicuous absence of tangible initiatives tailored to the specific needs of women in the face of climate change. This lack of attention to detail raises questions about the authenticity of the commitment to addressing the gendered impacts of climate change.

The danger of tokenism lies in its ability to pacify public sentiment without effecting genuine change. The narratives surrounding women and climate become pawns in a political chess game, raised to create an illusion of justice or to meet public expectations. This strategic posturing, however, does not translate into effective actions that address the intricate challenges faced by women in the changing climate of Indonesia.

To break free from the shackles of tokenism, Indonesia must move beyond symbolic gestures and commit to substantive action. A paradigm shift is imperative, necessitating a holistic approach that intertwines gender-responsive policies with comprehensive climate change strategies. The 30% representation of women in parliament must manifest in laws that not only protect but empower women, especially in the face of climate-induced vulnerabilities.

The 2020 Omnibus Law should serve as a catalyst for introspection and reform, urging policymakers to prioritize gender-sensitive legislation. The ministry for women and children must evolve from a bureaucratic entity into a dynamic force of change, armed with sustainable programs, budget allocations, and strategic plans that unequivocally demonstrate its dedication to women’s issues, particularly in the context of a changing climate.

Simultaneously, the ministry dedicated to climate change must translate its rhetoric into tangible actions. A genuine commitment requires the development and implementation of programs specifically tailored to the unique needs and vulnerabilities of women in the context of climate change. This encompasses fostering resilience, ensuring economic opportunities, and amplifying the voices of women in decision-making processes related to environmental policies.

In conclusion, Indonesia stands at a crossroads where rhetoric must give way to action. The current state of tokenism surrounding women and climate does a disservice to the nation’s progress and its most vulnerable citizens. By redefining priorities, allocating resources judiciously, and implementing policies that genuinely empower women in the face of climate change, Indonesia can emerge as a beacon of substantive change rather than succumbing to the hollow promises of tokenism.

*IGG Maha Adi is the Chairman of Green Press Indonesia and  Bertha Challenge Fellow  2024.

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