Stella Gama

Technology and Gender Negotiator from Malawi. SBSTA Rapporteur 2019-2020, Vice Chair of the Technology Executive Committee 2019-2020

Stellar Stella started her UNFCCC journey in 2011 at COP17 in Durban, as an observer for the REDD+ and land use negotiations on behalf of her government.  “That first COP was overwhelming – with the negotiations, side events, demonstrations…,” recalls Stella. “I just followed the formal negotiations from 10 am to 1 pm, and then again from 3 pm to 5 pm, without realizing that there were informal meetings taking place in between in the background. I would be lost when the negotiations resumed, but everybody else seemed to know what was going on.”

This kind of blind dive into the process can get frustrating for some, prompting them to quit, but Stella returned to Doha the following year. On her own initiative, she started following the gender negotiations – and made an intervention that was reported in ECO and the Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Encouraged by this success, Stella played a bigger role in the gender negotiations during the Lima COP, where the Lima Work Programme on Gender was agreed. Once again, she showed initiative and started following the technology negotiations. “We wanted to include technology in the gender work programme, but nobody knew how,” she says. “I decided that I would start following the technology negotiations as well to find out.”

It was also in Lima that Stella learnt a valuable lesson in negotiations and diplomacy. Some countries opposed the use of the term “gender equality” in the Lima Work Programme on Gender. Exasperating as this must have been, Stella says it was decided to substitute the term with “gender responsiveness” instead. “If we hadn’t made that compromise, there would be no Lima Work Programme, which has since helped a lot in changing perceptions on gender in the UNFCCC process.”

Asked what advice she would give young women joining the process as negotiators based on her own journey, Stella says it was tough. “But I decided I would do it, and that I had to be assertive and aggressive. Mistakes will be made, don’t be afraid of making those. You need to be committed – both in terms of time and in terms of content. You need to have wide knowledge of the issues to be able to negotiate effectively. You need diplomatic skills – some of which you will acquire on the way, and others that you must actively learn. You have to learn how to express your country or group’s position without stepping on feet.” Training programmes run by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and UNITAR helped Stella. 

Most of all, Stella emphasizes working collectively. “My first intervention was effective because I spoke on behalf of the LDC Group, not just my own country Malawi. We [the LDC Group] were able to influence the position of the Africa Group and of AILAC because we spoke as a Group. Your Group members can give you advice on how to overcome hurdles to move forward. Work with them, make sure you attend Group coordination meetings.”

On the future activities of the Women Climate Leaders Network, Stella hopes that it will not only support other women in the process in future, but also play a more substantive role in overcoming the current trust deficit – perhaps by building bridges through a fellowship programme like that of the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi).

Stella’s hard work and commitment (and assertiveness and aggression!) has paid off. She served as Member and Vice Chair of the Technology Executive Committee, and is currently Rapporteur for the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). She has also played a very active role in training and mentoring young women negotiators from developing countries, as part of the activities of the ecbi.

Back home, Stella is the mother of two boys, and a forest management specialist with over twenty years of experience in participatory forestry, governance, and institutions.