Civil Society Roundtable: ‘Gender, climate change and health: how can we do better for women and girls?’

On August 1st, 2023, an interactive online roundtable alongside gender, climate, and health experts to devise gender-responsive climate strategies focusing on health. Africa Zanella, LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, had been invited to share her viewpoint and make her recommendations.

As many studies pointed out, climate change disproportionately affects women, girls and marginalised communities, compromising the rights of women and girls and slowing the advancement of gender equality.
Growing evidence shows that the climate crisis has an impact on women’s health and their access to health services. Health impacts related to food insecurity, infectious diseases, mental illness, and poor sexual and reproductive health are increasing due to the warming climate.
International commitments emphasise the importance of gender equality and women’s participation in climate action, but the reality is that gender considerations are yet to be effectively mainstreamed in ongoing climate change strategies, activities and national planning.
The interactive roundtable ‘Gender, climate change and health: how can we do better for women and girls?’ alongside gender, climate, and health experts aimed to study the intersection of these issues and devise gender-responsive climate strategies focusing on health.

Africa Zanella, LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Office, had been invited to join the event and share her viewpoint and perspective on these critical issue with other fellow civil society leaders and specialists in gender, health and climate, including inspirational women working in climate-affected rural communities. Africa is a renowned global expert in gender issues and a social scientist; currently based in Europe, she comes from Australia, one of the eleven Commonwealth member states in the Pacific region (and among one of its historic, founder members in 1931 along with New Zealand).
She made her recommendations during the live event while explaining LifeWatch ERIC’s vision, and how our Research Infrastructures could support researchers and climate action.
“LifeWatch ERIC is the European e-Science and Technology Consortium for biodiversity and ecosystems research, composed of eight member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain), with a Statutory office in Seville and Common Facilities in Italy and the Netherlands”, she explained. “LifeWatch ERIC provides access to a multitude of datasets, webservices and other research resources, allowing the accelerated capture of data, their analysis and support for knowledge-based decision-making for biodiversity & ecosystem management. Under a Gender Equality Plan and EU guidelines, LifeWatch ERIC has promoted a greater participation rate of professional women scientists to help us have a more cohesive as well as fair and scientific gender balance vision of our climate issues and solutions”.

Moreover, she focused on climate finance, illustrating in particular the World Bank Climate Investment Fund, highlighting the nexus between climate, health and gender, and the importance of an inclusive and rights-based approach towards development and disaster risk reduction frameworks.
“Women and girls are reportedly disproportionately affected by disasters: some estimates show for example that women comprised 70% of casualties after the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami; women’s higher vulnerability to risks is rooted in socially defined roles within reproduction and caregiving – women with families suffered the most because of the ‘family commitment’ with aging parents and children-. As Gender Focal Point for the Climate Investment Fund (CIF), I’ve been engaged in integrating gender into programmes, e.g. in the Nature People and Climate Programme, when we focused on differential impact of climate change on men and women, and the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls in disaster situations, exploring even the intersectional nature of women’s realities that are manifested through age, class, caste, disabilities, health status, migrant status, sexual orientation, gender identities, health status, etc.”

Organised by the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society supporting people’s participation in democracy and development, the roundtable aimed to be useful to identify and devise collective positions on gender, climate and health ahead of the 13th Women Affairs Ministerial Meeting (13WAMM) in August where the conclusions from this roundtable will be presented to Ministers and Senior Officials.
Commonwealth Member States use the Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting to set shared priorities for gender equality and women’s empowerment. This year’s Meeting will also shape the gender equality agenda for the 2024 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa.

“In summary”, she concluded, “climate change is a global issue that affects communities, decision-making, economic activities at global, national and regional level; for this reason, we have to consider the global and the ‘local’ dimension of the problem, looking at the organisational culture and socio-economic aspects of each countries and regions. We must address the challenge of a just and sustainable transition for all, mainstreaming health, gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate policies”.

Policy recommendations and video highlights from the Roundtable with Ministers and Senior Officials will be shared next month.

For further information, visit the page of the event.

LifeWatch ERIC presence at Climate Investment Funds deliberation on Gender

Our International Gender Officer at the CIF meeting with delegates from Kenya and Nepal

On 27 June 2023, at the 15th anniversary meeting of Climate Investment Funds (CIF) in Brasilia, ministers from 14 countries released a declaration emphasising that climate change is a global challenge that affects us all but especially developing countries that may have fewer resources to handle these changes. Our International Gender Officer Africa Zanella attended the CIF meeting in Brasilia, pictured here with delegates from Kenya and Nepal. She is CIF Gender Focal Point and represents civil society, helping integrate gender with climate funding programmes.

She is also an official observer of the World Bank, which met with the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). They discussed allocating funding for mitigation and adaptation to climate change programmes. During the meeting, Brazil, Fiji, Indonesia and other African Nations made collaboration and investment proposals. The Global committee considered a Nature People Programme and renewable energy funding.

Ms Zanella’s overviewed policy and programmes presentation at Brasilia’s capacity building panel session. Her presentation, ‘Gender Integration for Climate Investment Fund Projects’, shows a lack of progress towards gender parity. This is a catastrophe for the future of our economies, societies and environment, she said

There is an urgent need to promote women’s employment in renewable energy and agricultural technologies through internships, quotas, skill training and human resource policy reforms.

Voices of Women at LifeWatch ERIC for International Women’s Day

Voices of Women

In preparation for this year’s International Women’s Day, LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, Africa Zanella, had a clear request: amplify women’s voices. As explored in the “Gender, Equity and Research” campaign for last year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, statistically, we know that while more women than ever are getting involved in STEM, there are significant obstacles still to overcome for women in research. 

In light of International Women’s Day 2023, we have therefore created a podcast miniseries specifically dedicated to learning more about authentic experiences of women working in LifeWatch ERIC fields of interest. We asked scientists from our eight member states to talk candidly about their work and experience. The guests were invited to speak in pairs, which produced spontaneous and insightful conversations on these topics, facilitated by LifeWatch ERIC podcast host, Julian Kenny. Being of all ages and hailing from a diversity of backgrounds, the end result produced is an enriching range of experiences and contemporary points of view of women working in research today. Listening to their voices, our eyes are opened to their contribution to society, to science, and the potential offered by the European Union’s Gender Equality Strategy, which LifeWatch ERIC actively supports and incorporates into its everyday work life.

The guests featured in “Voices of Women” are:

The episodes will be released over the course of the week beginning 6 March and will be consolidated with an overview and considerations from LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, Africa Zanella, interviewed by Chief Communication Officer, Sara Montinaro, to be released on 8 March (International Women’s Day). This podcast will examine the progress of the infrastructure as a whole in terms of achieving gender sustainability and equity, a year on from the appointment of LifeWatch ERIC’s International Gender Officer, and explore future plans to continue the commendable and tangible work that she has already set in motion.

The podcasts are available here below. They can also be found on Spotify, Google, Apple, and Amazon.

‘SeaWomen’ expedition studying orcas and whales above the Arctic circle

SeaWomen expedition

This winter, LifeWatch Belgium provided a key contribution to the citizen science initiative ‘SeaWomen’, an expedition studying marine ecosystem change, orca and whale behaviour in northern Norway, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, during the winter herring run.

The expedition was unique in many ways. The international team of 34 was exclusively women, non-binary and two-spirit peoples, thereby empowering women and minority groups. In addition, the team represented very diverse backgrounds and skillsets that enabled an interdisciplinary programme of activity, connecting marine and wider environmental science with art, photography, storytelling and more, with the core aim of collecting new knowledge about marine ecosystems in the region and collectively raising awareness about the ocean, and the effects of climate change on the natural world.

LifeWatch Belgium and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), including Dr Elisabeth Debusschere, contributed expertise and equipment to the ‘SeaWomen’ expedition, including the loaning of a Soundtrap HF 600 (Ocean instrument), a hydrophone to monitor underwater sound, marine mammal and other marine life vocalisations. This complemented a behaviour programme focused on killer whales (Orcinus orca) and included in-water winter snorkelling to obtain photos, videos and observations of the orcas and whales, together with marine environmental measurements including ocean physics (temperature and salinity profiles) and eDNA samples.

Dr Kate Larkin (marine expert at the European Marine Observation and Data Network Secretariat) was also onboard: “This expedition was a completely new approach to positive climate action. All of the women onboard were volunteers, with a common motivation to increase knowledge and societal understanding about the Ocean, and how the Ocean and marine ecosystem is changing as a result of human impact, ranging from climate change to human activities at sea such as fishing, tourism, shipping and more. It was a pleasure to collaborate with VLIZ and LifeWatch Belgium together with other partners and the diverse team of talented women, to make this expedition a reality.”

This article was originally posted on LifeWatch Belgium by Dr Kate Larkin (EMODnet) and Dr Elisabeth Debusschere (VLIZ).

A Focus on Gender-Responsive Policy at the Women for the Mediterranean Conference

Women for the Mediterranean

LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, Africa Zanella, took part this week in the Women for the Mediterranean Conference in Madrid, where Union for the Mediterranean member states committed on Wednesday to strengthening the role of women in society in response to regional crises. Ms Zanella, who is also CEO of CGSE, as well as Observer and Gender Focal Point for the CIF, moderated the panel “Gender Equality and Climate Change: women as agents for change and stakeholders instead of vulnerable groups”, followed by participation in the panel “Gender-responsive finance at scale for climate and environment action”.

A recurring theme in her speeches throughout the day was calling for attention to language, and she opened by rejecting the ubiquitous term “climate change”, calling for the phenomenon to be referred to as the “climate crisis”. Also in common with her following presentations, she called for more gender analysis into research and policy, explaining her role within LifeWatch ERIC to implement a Gender Equity Plan, which is now a requirement for participation in EU research funding programmes, and use of tools such as IGAR to increase equality and wellbeing in the research infrastructure, which provides science research facilities and services to scientists investigating biodiversity and ecosystem functions towards addressing key societal challenges linked to climate change.

For the first panel, she introduced panellists: Saira Ahmed, Programme Management Officer at UNDRR, Blanca Moreno-Dodson, Director of the CMIUNOPS, Yasmine Seghirate, Policy and Communication Officer at CIHEAM, and Maggie Refaat, Regional Gender Specialist at FAO. Some of the key points the experts spoke about were the desegregation of data for effective gender analysis of policy, due to the large diversity within genders, and about increased information exchange between universities and research infrastructures in order to develop equality plans and support women who want to become scientists.

Next, Africa Zanella invited the panellists to choose the point of action from the Gender Declaration which they believe would make the best change for women. Points mentioned included training and research, due to the important of having data which reveals how climate change is affecting women; monitoring changes to legislation, which largely needs to be reviewed in order to incorporate gender component; the importance of having reliable data on climate financing, to encourage the private sector to collaborate with public sector; gender transformative approaches, such as increased reporting on women’s access to land ownership and access to knowledge; and increased investment in a gender-sensitiiveresponse to disasters, which would involve more resources made directly available to grassroots women’s organisations.

When as a panellist the Gender Officer was asked how the Union for the Mediterranean roadmap could be improved, she stated the stark fact that only 0.04% of climate funding is dedicated into gender, citing the problem as a bureaucratic resistance to change globally. Moreover, in line with her previous statements, Africa Zanella called for an end to tokenism, explaining that women are not are homogenous group, and further factors must be taken into account, such as sector, region, etc.: requiring a more thorough and detailed analytic approach to developing gender-responsive policy. Finally, Ms Zanella mentioned ongoing research being undertaken by CIF World Bank, for which she is part of the reference group, which shows that what women in developing countries want is a voice, so they can give their perspective and decide their own fate.

About Union for the Mediterranean

The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is an intergovernmental Euro-Mediterranean organisation which brings together all countries of the European Union and 15 countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. UfM’s mission is to enhance regional cooperation, dialogue and the implementation of projects and initiatives with tangible impact on our citizens, with an emphasis on young people and women, in order to address the three strategic objectives of the region: stability, human development and integration.

Women for the Mediterranean

LifeWatch ERIC Appoints Gender Expert to Assist its Work for Equality in Research

Gender Equality in Research

Christos Arvanitidis, LifeWatch ERIC CEO, has announced today the appointment of a social scientist and gender expert, Africa G Zanella, to take up the role of advising and directing the infrastructure’s strategy, policies and programmes from a gender-equality perspective.

LifeWatch ERIC is committed to seeing gender balance not only within the organisation, but also in line with European Union guidelines for Research Institutions regarding diversity and inclusion in research projects funded under ERDF,” said the CEO.

Zanella will design and implement a Gender Equality Plan which will be available to all stakeholders including researchers, staff, allies and the LifeWatch ERIC international community,  to create an equitable and sustainable environment for all at work. The plan will develop a cohesive front of human capital in LifeWatch ERIC’s quest to develop innovative research tools and systems for biodiversity and ecosystem scientists, to make a social, economic and environmental difference.

Zanella is an innovative thinker and challenges traditional approaches to problem solving. She has been appointed to the World Bank Climate Investment Fund for the 2021-23 period as a Civil Society Observer and is an accredited expert in Women’s Empowerment, Economic Growth and Green Industry for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). She has special skills in the alignment of SDG 5 (Equality) with relevant SDGs to ensure that women play an important role in economic and social development and contribute to the wellbeing and survival of people and the planet. She hopes to be able to establish a transformative change that will see high-quality researchers from diverse backgrounds participate with LifeWatch ERIC in its mission and vision. 

Zanella was born in Spain and has lived and worked in Australia most of her life, where she has a distinguished career in international relations and sustainability. She can be contacted at