Women and the Environment
Though it was at the First World Conference on Women, 1975 (Mexico City), that the “women and environment” issue was brought into public consciousness by the Indian physicist Vandana Shiva, it was only in the 1980s that governments and development agencies became actively aware of the need to consider gender issues in their environmental and natural resource management programmes. It was also realised later that the active participation of women and the integration of gender issues in environmental policies and actions are critical determinants for the implementation of the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the Millennium Development Goals. Yet discriminatory structures and attitudes continue to result in deeply entrenched patterns of gender inequality in these areas.
Table of Contents
“Gender and Environment” or “Women and Environment”?
According to UNEP, the discussion of Gender and Environment is based on two precepts:
-That gender mediates human/environment interactions and all environmental use, knowledge, and assessment; and
-That gender roles, responsibilities, expectations, norms, and the division of labor shape all forms of human relationships to the environment,
As such UNEP feels that the issue of concern should be “gender and environment” rather than “women and environment”. The two broad principles noted above manifest themselves in a variety of environmental relations and interactions, including:
-Gender differences are evident in the use and management of natural resources, and unequal relationships in the family, community, etc. mediate women’s access to resources;
-Gender differences are evident in livelihood strategies that are rooted in particular uses of the environment;
-Gender differences are evident in knowledge of the environment, knowledge of specific resources, and of environmental problems;
-Gender differences are evident in responsibilities for managing, owning, or stewarding resources, and in rights to resources;
-Gender differences are evident in encounters with the environment, in perceptions of the environment and in perceptions of the nature and severity of environmental problems;
-All of the above contribute to the gender differences that are evident in accountability, stewardship, and action for the environment.
Ecofeminism and Feminist environmentalism
Ecofeminism is seen as the connection of the environmental movement and the feminism movement. It is one of the only movements that combine multiple social movements. Academics and activists like Vandana Shiva ( India ), Ariel Salleh ( Australia ), Maria Mies ( Germany ) and Gloria Goldstein (Gender Equality in the Gender Equality in the Gender Equality in the United States of America of America of America) are regarded as important representatives from ecofeminism. However, critics like Rosi Braidotti (1994) and Bina Agarwal (1998) argue that ecofeminism has focused too much on ideological arguments and failed to address power and economic differences which also contribute to differentiation among women, and that ecofeminists also tend to overestimate the idea of harmonious, ecological, and traditional societies.
Bina Agarwal suggests ‘feminist environmentalism’ as an alternative concept. This concept insists that the link between women and the environment should be seen as ‘structured by a given gender and class/caste/race organization of production, reproduction and distribution’. Her approach is similar to what Dianne Rocheleau (1995) has called ‘feminist political ecology’, and both emphasize material relations and their structuring of gender relationships. These are particularly expressed in dynamic and cumulative gendered knowledge of environment, sciences and technologies.
(The term ‘ecofeminism’ was coined by the French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne in 1974)
Women and climate change
Women, particularly those in poor countries, are affected differently by climate change than men. They are among the most vulnerable to climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. This cycle of deprivation, Poverty in Focus: Gender Equality and inequality undermines the social capital needed to deal effectively with climate change.
Relations between the sexes and attention to the specific needs of each have until recently gained little attention by those charged with addressing global climate change. The word “gender” found no mention in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
At the UNFCCC’s 9th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Milan in 2003 a global network of women and gender activists, and gender experts from all world regions working for gender and climate justice started: GenderCC – women for climate justice. It was kickstarted, when some organisations (GenaNet, ENERGIA, WECF) invited to an informal meeting during the Conference of the Parties to discuss whether the issue ‘gender’ should be given more attention at climate change negotiations. Regular side events and meetings at the following COP’s, followed by a growing interest in the network and in the issue gender and climate change, have been the consequences of the global network’s founding. A milestone was reached at 13th Conference of the Parties in Bali in December 2007, when the network published several position papers articulating the women’s and gender perspectives on the most pressing issues under negotiation.
Eventually, the UNFCCC’s Secretariat in December 2008 formally recognized at the 14th Conference of the Parties in Poznan´, Poland : “the gender dimension of climate change and its impacts are likely to affect men and women differently.” The secretariat urged formulation of “gender inclusive policy measures to address climate change” and stressed that women “are important actors” and “agents of change” in coping and adaptation. The secretariat also named a gender coordinator and a group of “gender focal points” assigned to assure gender is brought into three of the UNFCCC programme areas.
In Bonn in June 2009, a negotiating text drafted by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC reflected the growing recognition of the importance of gender in the climate-change debate. The text included 13 references to gender, 17 references to women, and one reference to the CEDAW
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), among the thousands of pages of its assessment reports, devoted one half page of text in 2007 to the issue of “gender aspects of vulnerability and adaptive capacity” in response to climate change and comparable natural disasters. Women, in fact, rarely make up more than about 15 per cent of the authors of the Panel’s assessment reports.
Some instances of women’s initiatives
The first recorded instance of a woman trying to safeguard the environment relates to about 300 years ago when, in Rajasthan, India, a woman Amrita Devi protested to the felling of trees by for building a palace for the Maharaja of Jodhpur. She died in the attempt, which was followed by large-scale protests by the local villagers. As the story goes, the king promised never again to ask the local villagers to supply timber. Amrita Devi belonged to the Bishnoi community, which is known for its love of nature.
The Chipko Movement (chipko literally means to stick to or to hug something) against felling of trees in the hill regions of Uttar Pradesh, India (now the region is a separate state named Uttarakhand) involved hundreds of women who hugging trees to prevent them from being felled by local contractors working for the government. The movement picked up momentum in the mid 1970s, mainly under the leadership of Gaura Devi, a 50-year old illiterate woman.
In Japan , in the 1950s, the Nakabaru Women’s Society and Sanroku Women’s Society protested strongly against pollution from industries and power plants in the Tobata region. This resulted in major pollution prevention measures taken by the local government and corporations.
In Kenya , the Greenbelt Movement was founded by Wangari Maathai. Launched on Earth Day 1977 by the National Council of Women, this environmental campaign resulted in the mobilization of thousands of women planting indigenous trees. The movement’s work has spread to other countries through the Pan-African Green Network.
In Brazil , the women’s organisation Ação Democrática Feminina Gaúcha (ADFG) was founded in 1964. (It later developed into Friends of the Earth-Brazil) Its main objective was to promote social change for equal opportunities, but since 1974 it became actively involved in environment protection, mainly through protests against chemical-based agriculture, and lobbying for environmental protection laws.
In Thailand , Tunjai Deetes helped found the Hill Area Development Foundation, which has initiated sustainable development efforts in 28 villages of five tribal groups. As a result of her leadership and dedication, many of the hill tribes have developed into self-reliant communities that now serve as national models in sustainable agriculture and resource conservation.
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action identified three strategic objectives in the critical area of women and the environment:
-Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels.
-Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for sustainable development.
-Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women.
Following the 5-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, major achievements in the field of women and the environment are:
-A positive, albeit tentative, trend towards greater participation and involvement of women in environmental decision-making positions
-Steps to incorporate a gender perspective in (inter) national and local environmental activities, policies, plans and legislation, as well as in institutional arrangements.
-Increase in women’s capabilities in the environmental field, including their knowledge, skills, and organization
-A growing quantity and quality of gender-sensitive environmental research and data
-A more holistic approach that incorporates poverty eradication and women’s economic empowerment in environmental conservation and management
However, during Beijing+5 also a number of obstacles to further progress on women and the environment were identified. These include:
-Low participation of women in environmental protection and management, and in the formulation, planning and execution of environmental policies
-Insufficient numbers and inadequate influence of women in responsible positions and a male monopoly in the management of environmental resources
-Under-representation of women in research and teaching in the natural sciences
-Lack of gender-sensitive environmental policies, programmes and research
-Absence of deliberate strategies to ensure women’s participation in decision-making, including lack of funding and monitoring
-Low level of management and technical skills among women
-Women’s limited access to resources, information, education and training
- United Nations
- UN WomenWatch
- State of World Population 2009: Facing a Changing World: Women, Population and Climate: UNFPA
- Women: Agents of Change for a Healthy Environment
- Gender and the Environment: GDRC
- Beijing Platform for Action Chapter IV K. Women and the Environment
- Gender and the Environment: UNEP
- Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
- Women for Climate Justice: GenderCC
- Poverty, Environment, Gender Linkages: OECD
- Gender and Sustainable Development Maximising the Economic, social and environmental role of women: OECD
- Research on Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development: ISOE
- Environment, Women and Population: Interrelated Issues in Rural Development in Southeast Asia: FAO
- Ministerial Initiative for the Environment- CWWL
- Role of Mountain Women in Environment Governance in India
- Women and Environment in India
- Women, Land Rights and the Environment: The Kenyan Experience
- Women and the Environment Bibliography: Berkeley
- Women and the Environment through History: Wikipedia
- Ecofeminism: Wikipedia
- Women and Agriculture
- Women and Biodiversity
- Women and Disasters
- Women and Water: The Forgotten Glass Ceiling
- Women and Transport in Europe: Turner/Spitzner/Hamilton – European Parliament
- Women and the Informal Economy
- Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
- Women's Environmental Council