Beijing+5: 23rd special session of the General Assembly

Fact Sheet No. 11

Women and the Environment

Women's participation in the formulation, planning and execution of environmental policy continues to be low. At the same time, the international community has recognized that without women's full participation, sustainable development cannot be achieved.

Women have a key role to play in preserving the environment and natural resources, and in promoting sustainable development. For example, women still have the main responsibility for meeting household needs and are therefore a major force in determining consumption trends. As such, women have an essential role to play in the development of sustainable and ecologically sound consumption and production patterns.

The Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, identified the need to actively involve women in environmental decision-making at all levels, and to incorporate a gender perspective in all strategies for sustainable development, as one of the 12 critical areas of concern requiring action by states, the international community and civil society.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women took up the issue of women and the environment for discussion during its forty-first session in 1997. The Commission proposed further action to be taken to promote women's active involvement in environmental management at all levels, including the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into all environmental policies and programmes. Among the agreed conclusions of the session were measures to encourage gender-sensitive research on the impact of environmental pollutants and other harmful substances, including their impact on the reproductive health of men and women, and the active involvement of women in the development and implementation of policies aimed at promoting and protecting the environmental aspects of human health, such as setting standards for drinking water.

Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective
in Environmental Policies

To promote sustainable development, a number of governments have taken steps to incorporate a gender perspective into their national environmental policies and programmes.

  • Canada has promoted the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the sustainable management of freshwater, oceans and forests, the protection of biodiversity and combating desertification.
  • The National Directorate for Equality of Women in Colombia is working with the Ministry of the Environment to incorporate a gender perspective in the planning and implementation of its programmes.
  • Côte d'Ivoire has developed a National Action Programme on the Environment, which takes gender concerns into consideration.
    Women in Decision-making for Sustainable Development.
    One of the strategic objectives of the Platform for Action was the inclusion of women, including indigenous women, in environmental decision-making at all levels, as managers, designers, planners, and implementers of environmental projects.
  • Portugal has appointed a woman as the Minister of the Environment.
  • The Canadian Government has provided financial and policy support for the participation of indigenous women at various international meetings, including the participation of a delegation from the Pauktuutit Inuit Women's Association in the 1997 Northern Women, Northern Lives Conference in Norway. The Conference was convened to enhance the contribution of women in achieving sustainable development.
  • In Tunisia, women hold 19 per cent of senior management positions in the Ministry of Environment and Regional Development. Women constitute 36 per cent of the Ministry's staff.
  • In Jamaica, women now make up 37 per cent of the technical staff of the Forestry Department. Changes in recruitment strategies have raised the percentage of women working as administrative staff in the environmental sector to 69 per cent.
  • In China, as of 1997, 38 per cent of the total staff working in the environmental protection department were women.

Strengthening Women's Capabilities

There is growing recognition of the need to strengthen women's capabilities to participate in environmental decision-making, by increasing their access to information and education, particularly in the areas of science, technology and economics.

  • Iran has organized workshops on women's participation in environmental protection in order to increase the number of women working to preserve natural resources. It has also created a special department in the Environmental Protection Office for Training and Programming that works to promote rural women's contribution to environmental protection activities.
  • The Congo, Mali and Moldova are among those countries that have implemented training programmes to raise the environmental consciousness of women and to transfer know-how on agricultural technologies and methods to them.
  • Germany has developed a project called "Girls for an Ecological Europe", which motivates and supports girls who want to get involved in the field of ecology.
  • Jordan has embarked on the training of rural women in the proper use of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, as well as in the use of modern irrigation methods.
  • In China, an annual campaign entitled "March 8 Green Works" has involved the participation of an estimated 100 million women every year. The campaign focuses on reforestation, the creation of shelter forests, and water conservation.
  • Jamaica, with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, has launched a project called "Trees for Tomorrow", with the aim of involving women in agro-forestry extension programmes.
  • In India, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) supports the Sanitation, Water and Community Health Project, which trains women to work as pump mechanics and caretakers of handpumps. Women regularly maintain and repair the pumps needed to secure water supply throughout the year.

Empowering Women Economically

The link between poverty and environmental degradation is well established. Eradication of poverty has been recognized as an indispensable requirement for the achievement of sustainable development. The empowerment of the world's poor, the majority of whom are women, particularly rural women, must therefore be seen as a necessary part of any environmental conservation strategy. Recognizing this crucial link, a number of states have incorporated economic activities into their environmental conservation strategies.

  • Through its support for United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Canada has made possible a project in Mali to train, equip and provide credit for women to establish a waste-disposal business in Bamako, which currently provides garbage removal services to 18,000 residents.
  • Tunisia has launched a pilot project on fighting desertification through improving the living conditions of rural women. Mali and Swaziland are also among these countries that are pursuing projects to combat desertification, with the active involvement of women.
  • El Salvador is providing technical assistance for the production of 334,000 young trees in community nurseries tended by women.
  • Through the Aga Khan foundation, Canada supported the work of women's organizations in India to reclaim unproductive wasteland lost to salt damage. The women also set up their own savings clubs to provide small loans to members and to follow up on new drinking water projects.

Gender Analysis and Research

In an effort to develop a further understanding of the linkage between gender equality and sustainable development, a number of governments have embarked on gender sensitive research on the environment. Efforts have also been made to involve women themselves in these studies.

  • In Namibia, the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism has launched a programme for women to research the environmental effects of development on their communities.
  • A study conducted in Tunisia focused on the role of women in the management of natural resources and efforts to combat desertification.
  • In 1997, the German Government funded the publication of a directory entitled "Who's who in the women's environmental sector".
  • In Iceland, gender analysis was conducted of whether or not a proposed hydro-electric dam and aluminium plant would benefit women economically. Women's voices were prominent in the debate that followed on whether to proceed with the project from an environmental perspective.

This fact sheet is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2).

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information
DPI/2035/K—May 2000