Published September 21, 2023
A University at Buffalo faculty member was one of 15 gender experts worldwide invited by the United Nations to review and provide feedback on "Gender Equality in a Changing Climate," a flagship report for UN Women.
Sarah A. Robert, associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, is an international education policy expert who researches how policy and politics shape and are shaped by the intersectional qualities of gender in global, South American and U.S. urban contexts.
"The report lays out a gender-focused approach to climate justice, making the case that public action should be based on a framework of feminist climate justice," Robert explained.
Robert’s research brings together aspects of social policies, education policies, and health and pension policies for teachers and school employees. Her unique blend of expertise and her award-winning book, "School Food Politics" (P. Lang, 2011), caught the attention of UN Women, the U.N. organization delivering programs, policies and standards that uphold women’s human rights.
"I had no idea that my scholarship, and the school food politics book in particular, actually had such an impact on different people, including government decision-makers and grassroots activists and students," Robert said.
She has completed an update to that book with contributors from around the world, which is how she ended up on UN Women’s radar.
"The new book, co-edited with Jennifer E. Gaddis (University of Wisconsin-Madison), is called ‘Transforming School Food Politics Around the World’ (MIT Press, 2024) and caught the attention of UN Women, specifically the ways we incorporate social reproduction theories with policy protagonism — a concept I coined early in my academic career at UB — to bring about inclusive and grassroots-driven change in public policy decision-making," Robert said.
As part of the discussion leading up to the two-day review of the UN Women report, Robert learned that what’s been laid out for her new book is similar to the conceptual framework being proposed to U.N. member states to confront climate justice and, "to do so from the perspectives of women and those who are most vulnerable to climate change, and who also have a deep fountain of knowledge about schools and food systems."
Climate change is having a significant impact on food systems. And climate justice is an important concept that is gaining momentum around the world. Robert’s forthcoming book looks at the food systems in schools from urban Philadelphia to rural Brazil and beyond.
"There are people who care for communities in ways that governments need to start paying attention to and finding ways to support both in terms of just honoring and recognizing the work that they’re doing in their communities," she said.
Robert has been entrenched in feminist policy and educational food system studies for three decades. And while she’s been involved with crafting policy and language all over the world, this is her first time working with UN Women.
"This was really incredible because of the diversity of experts that were asked to participate," she said. "People from different sectors of the world that have knowledge and engage in work that’s concerned about women and about climate justice and about food systems. It was refreshing because I was being asked to be an expert and to share my knowledge, but I also was engaging in learning. I think that that’s the beauty of that type of meeting."
Robert says it speaks volumes that UN Women brought together experts who have knowledge that addresses women’s experiences around the world. And of the report, Robert says she thought it was brilliant, moving and important.
"I was so humbled by the fact that our research matters on a global level. And that there are people at this global policy-making level who are actually paying attention," she said. "They want to know what it is that someone at the University at Buffalo is doing. And it’s really transformative as a public scholar to work with governments to make that change happen in different places. So that was really moving and really reassuring."