The WiSER movement - a UAE initiative empowering women
As global leaders met in New York last week for the Second Annual United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum, it is important for us to recognise that around the world, climate change disproportionately affects women. This is especially true in developing countries that, ironically, have contributed almost nothing to global emissions, yet experience its greatest impact. Dependent on natural resources for survival, women in these regions have primary family and community responsibility for accessing water, food and energy. As drought, uncertain rainfall, and deforestation compromise their families' security, they are becoming critical partners and leaders in finding solutions to sustainable development.
In fact, empowering women and young girls is a vital part of mitigating climate change and accelerating the transition to a more sustainable future. Positioned at the centre of the challenges posed by climate change, women and young girls are central to new, innovative solutions that can create economic opportunities yet have minimal impact on the environment.
Recognising women's pivotal role in sustainability, the UAE has established Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WiSER), a bold initiative to catalyse innovative solutions to the global challenges caused by climate change and to facilitate initiatives that improve access to food, energy and water. The group brings together women leaders from around the world with diverse fields of expertise to share a common platform and generate new thinking and new solutions to the impact of scarce, finite resources. Within the UAE, WiSER is introducing young women to a rapidly evolving industry and the tremendous opportunities now available to female graduates and young professionals.
The challenge of sustainability is opening attractive new opportunities to women in fields long filled by men. Some jobs are completely new; others require new approaches to old tasks. The WiSER forums provide a healthy environment for free and open dialogue, where women in the industry can engage each other on the issues of career mobility, gender equality, corporate mobility and entrepreneurship.
WiSER is a joint initiative organised by Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy company and the Zayed Future Energy Prize, managed by Masdar. The prize empowers innovative individuals and young students to generate viable solutions to climate change through secure, affordable and sustainable energy.
In touching the lives of over 150,000,000 people worldwide since its inception in 2007, the prize has especially made a difference through the empowerment of many women and female students. For example, prize-winners have successfully trained more than 5,000 women as green technicians and solar engineers in Bangladesh and Malawi. Prize-winners have also opened doors by developing new innovations for disinfecting drinking water and reducing the need for firewood when cooking, which greatly increase the time women have to learn and exploit new skills and trades throughout Africa and Asia.
A recent report from the World Economic Forum suggests that, given recent trends, the world will have to wait a discouraging 81 years at present rates for gender parity in the workplace. Clearly, our mothers, daughters and sisters cannot wait that long when it comes to climate change: we are confronting an urgent threat, and therefore, we simply cannot afford to leave any talent untapped.
To overcome the global challenges of climate change, women must occupy more roles in government, engineering, media, politics and science. Living each day with the effects climate change has on their families and communities, woman and girls are poised to become change agents, to work with all of us in both adapting to climate change and mitigating its impacts. They must be a part of the processes and decisions driving solutions that address the challenges of energy and water security and climate risk.
Sustainable development is in urgent need of more platforms like WiSER, as well as such incentives for innovative action as the Zayed Future Energy Prize, to inspire all women to build on the important work contributing to sustainability today.