Women at COP27: Bridging the Spiritual Divide

Paola Moggi CMS

As a religious woman, I attended a Conference of the Parties on Climate Change for the first time last November in Egypt. Back in September 2018, I had the chance to take part in some events at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. The plush facilities and the immense variety of people were similar to what I witnessed in Sharm El Sheikh, but the active presence of women at COP27 was a total surprise to me.

In 2018, in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet was heading the HRC, but not many women were contributing actively to the discussions. COP27, instead, although presided over by a man (Sameh Shoukry), saw women often at the forefront, either in the delegations and in the panels or in the events staged by civil society organizations.

A “precious” map

The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) was particularly vibrant, with ongoing alerts and updates coming through its chat. The WGC is one of the nine stakeholder groups of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Established in 2009, it now consists of 34 women’s and environmental civil society organizations committed to ensuring that gender equality is embedded in all processes and results of the UNFCCC framework.

At the beginning of COP27, I had asked its secretariat to be kept informed on women-related initiatives. In no time I got a detailed list of events organized by WGC members, allies and an advocacy network of more than 600 feminists.

Other key events on gender equality and feminist climate action were also included; for each I could get date, topic, organizers, venue and time.

Thanks to this detailed map, I could start exploring the COP27 labyrinth of halls, pavilions and conference rooms: quite demanding, indeed!

I accessed a variety of themes from climate justice to locally-led adaptation initiatives, from gender finance to gender-responsive just transition, but what surprised me the most was the soft determination of indigenous women and the sparkling creativity of women activists.

Calm indigenous women

Indigenous women were the real experts of “nature-based solutions”: to the high-tech smart agriculture of “big business” they would answer with “old-fashioned” organic agriculture, that is, “nature-based solutions” which have treasured ecosystem services for centuries and in a very sustainable manner. Indigenous women speak of planetary health and cherish the mystery of all that exists, to the point of detecting “eco-sickness” from the “voice of the water” and the “colour of the ice”. From the Sahel to Alaska, from the Amazon to Micronesia, their world view fosters a synthesis of traditional knowledge and modern science, of past and future generations, of living and non-living beings.

Their meetings were always imbued with spirituality, since in creation all is connected and calls for mutual respect.

Shouting Feminists

Women activists were the other surprise. They would express their protest out loud, but often through song and dance.

On November 17 2022, civil society organizations gathered in Ramses Hall to present “The Peoples’ Declaration”. Thousands of activists were there; onstage the leaders of CAN were ready to address them. To my surprise the event started with two prayers by native Americans: the first from the Amazon and the second from the primary nation in Alberta (Canada).

In turn, all representatives of the UNFCCC constituencies took to the stage and addressed those gathered. Gina Cortes spoke on behalf of the WGC; all the other speakers, except one, were also women: they represented youth and children, indigenous peoples, trade unions, climate justice organizations and those committed to environmental and racial justice. A woman from the Sahel also took to the stage. At the end, the letter of the sister of Alaa Abd El Fattah, prisoner of conscience in Egypt, was read aloud: «Free Alaa. Free them all!» resounded loud in the hall. The conclusion was once again led by women: they led the way out expressing “togetherness” with an improvised dance. Thousands of activists followed them, chanting and dancing while expanding their positive energy outdoors. The women overflowed through corridors and alleys, while astonished bystanders looked on: their style was totally different from the formal protocol of the various Party [i.e. governmental] delegations.

Women, dancing, led people out of the Ramses Hall, just as in the Bible Miriam and the women sang and danced when Israel passed through the Red Sea!

A common quest for spirituality

On November 19 my last surprise was at the airport. Cop27 was officially over, but hectic negotiations were still on and a few activists remained to put pressure on the delegations. They hoped to get last-minute “just resolutions” on key issues. Among them were some of the WGC members who were still sending updates on hotly-debated decisions.

Their last message arrived later in the day from Mount Sinai: they had climbed it to breathe «the deep spirituality of the place». What a surprise! Even those “women fighters” – affiliated to no particular religion – long for spiritual nourishment!

At COP27 women really bridged the “spiritual divide” between, on one side the paladins of capitalism, advertising high-tech solutions, and on the other, people from very different walks of life offering “spiritual solutions”. Women made it clear that we all have to redefine what “wellbeing” is all about, and do so while listening respectfully to creation.

Even those apparently “aggressive” feminists I met at COP27 perceived the power and the depth of spirituality – not of religion, which often divides, but of spirituality, which brings so many differences together in harmony. All is interwoven, and spirituality can really “connect” the world.