Women, Gender and Environment

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Women, Gender and Environment

1.Introduction-Chapter 1

Equality between women and men is a fundamental right, a common value of the society, and a necessary condition for the achievement of the objectives of growth of society, employment and social cohesion. Although inequalities still exist, the EU, UN, USA and other countries has made significant progress over the last decades in achieving equality between women and men. This is mainly thanks to equal treatment legislation, gender mainstreaming and specific measures for the advancement of women.

The objectives of preparing the report is to determine the relationship among women gender and environment,whether women have any impact on environment and the real condihion of women gender and environment in the world.

During the period of June 2000 until April 2001, the European Commission launched Gender Impact Assessment studies in order to introduce a critical dimension in the way gender issues are treated throughout the 5th European Framework Programme for Research, Technology Development and Demonstration (RTD). These Gender Impact Assessments are part of a process started by the European Commission with the objective to take the gender dimension better into account within research policy. The results of these studies shall serve as a basis for the designing of future research policies at the Community level.

The assessment consisted of four steps:

1. the review of the state of the art in gender and environment.

2. the analysis of the gender composition of participating institutions and bodies of organization.

3. the analysis of the contents of the submitted proposals with respect to women and gender aspects.

4. recommendations for the increase of women’s participation in societys development.

The present publication is based on the results of the first step of this Gender Impact Assessment: The state of the art in gender and environment/sustainability research as well as the concept of a Gender Impact Assessment in this research field. Consequently, the presentation of the state of the art in gender and environment/gender and sustainability research given here must be seen against the background of these European Gender Impact Assessment projects. Thus, the specific environmental issues focused and presented in this report, are those that where focused in in the Key Actions and Generic Activities of the ESD-Sub Programme.

After an overview of the environment- debate within women studies/gender studies of the last 25 years, the state of the art report focuses mainly on gender and environment research in industrialised countries, neglecting the broader discussion on gender and environment issues in developing countries.

To begin with, chapter twogives an overview of four important lines of discussion in women, gender and environment-research/gender and sustainability-research:

chapter (2) the feminist critique of natural sciences and technology,

chapter (3) the focus on everyday life, women and the environment & health-issue in environmental research and

chapter (4) the debate on globalisation and sustainable development from a women‘s perspective.

Chapter threeexplains the theoretical background and the proceeding of the Gender Impact

Assessment in environmental research. Taking the given overview of the scientific debate on gender and environment as a basis, it identifies three gender-relevant dimensions and gender-relevant priority issues, (general priority issues) in environmental research.

chapters 4present the state of the art of gender research in specific thematic Based on the state of the art in these thematic fields, in each chapter, specific priority issues for gender research are identified. These specific priority issues can serve as indicators for the assessment of gender impacts in these fields.


2 The Women and Environment Debate and the Discussion on Sustainable Development in Gender Research

This chapter covers important issues of gender and environment-research/gender and sustainability-research. In the following, four lines of discussion are focussed:

1. the debate on women, environment and development (WED-debate),

2. the feminist critique of natural sciences and technology,

3. the focus on everyday life and the environment & health-issue in environmental research and

4. the debate on globalisation and sustainable development from a women‘s perspective. These discussions actually overlap and therefore cannot be understood in a strict chronological order.

2.1 The Debate on Women, Environment and Development

Until now the debate on women and the environment has been strongly influenced by the debate on development models and development policy strategies within the international women’s movement and UN women policies. The World Conferences on Women have played an important role in interconnecting women policies and scientific debates. At the First World Conference on Women, 1975 in Mexico-City, the “women and environment” issue was brought into public consciousness by the Indian physicist Vandana Shiva. She reported the struggle of the Chipko movement in the Himalaya region, which became a very prominent example in this debate. The Chipko women tried to protect the trees of the woodlands they owned in common against commercialisation and destruction by embracing them. The wood was their reservoir of nutrition, materials for house building and for small goods. Governmental and industrial interests denied the Chipko people their traditional right to the commons, and tried to expropriate them. This kind of government-business joint policy has remained a strong tendency in many regions of third world countries until today.

This example illustrates the fact that land rights are vital to environmental justice.

The question of access to and control of natural resources is an ongoing issue in the women and development debate.

Since the First World Conference on Women 1975until today there have been strong “women for the environment”-movements in thirdworld countries. They struggle for land ownership by women, and for preserving subsistenceeconomies, in which women mostly have a more powerful position. They fightagainst the pollution of rural and urban environments, the depletion of resources andagainst hazardous and “big” technical projects. One example was given by the Indianwriter Arundhati Roy, who has drawn attention to the Indian resistance against theNamada dam, a program of 54 huge dams affecting about 50 million mostly indigenouspeople (Roy 1999).

The environmental issue in international women’s movements is often connected with the fight of ethnic groups. Rosi Braidotti explains the strong involvement of third world women in the environmental issue as follows: “Because women are more directly exposed to the negative effects of environmental degradation in developing countries, they have taken up the issue as the main political point” (Braidotti 1999:76). Women of third world countries see themselves in an alliance with the environment which is often called “Alliance for the Future” (Dankelman/Davidson 1988, also Townsend 1995).

In the last decade this kind of environmental activism by women has become more and more connected with questions of women‘s rights, environmental rights and environmental justice.

In addition new issues have been raised, such as in the last WorldConference on Women in Beijing 1995:

??the interdependencies between poverty of women and environmental degradations in their living conditions,

??the important role of women in preserving healthy food and nutrition,

??the preservation of women‘s traditional knowledge against the commercialisation by biotechnological firms,

??the effect of organic pollutants on women’s reproductive health,

??the debate on population policies, which were discussed in Beijing in the context of human rights, of reproductive and sexual rights and self-determination for women.

The violation of human rights through sterilisation campaigns and induced abortion in population programmes was for the first time officially mentioned and condemned. The women, environment and development debate (WED-debate) is anchored in a critical view of development policies where the link between modernisation/industrialization and technology on the one hand and environmental deterioration on the other is focused. The so-called stand point feminists argue for a change in the developmentmodel and for a new perspective on development. They state that mainstream development strategies are destroying the environment and the living conditions for more and more people. Discussing this from the perspective of women means arguing from a standpoint of being placed at the periphery of a development model that puts first world countries at the centre and privileges the position of white men. Thus, these feminists connect the women, environment and development issue with an anticolonial perspective.

Above all in Asia, women are strongly organised. DAWN (“Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era”-network) works on its own theoretical reflections for developing a global view of the interdependencies of the economic macro level and the everyday life of women. DAWN focuses on a global vision of a society from a women’s perspective. Basic to their analysis is the perspective on an “empowerment of women”. The empowerment-concept was introduced very successfully into global women conferences. It is the leading perspective (and term) of a gender analysis that respects diversity amongst women.

Within gender research in Europe, the women, environment and development debate has been reflected in the so-called “subsistence approach” (Bennholdt-Thomsen 1980, 1983, 1987; Mies 1982; von Werlhof 1980, 1985; von Werlhof/Mies/Bennholdt- Thomsen 1983, see also chapter 10.1). This approach changed later into a more explicit ecofeminist position. Representatives of this perspective have raised the issue of overconsumption and have argued that consumerism in first world countries is linked to the destruction of subsistence economies in third world countries.

From a female perspective, they have argued that one must see the important role of subsistence production in developing countries as well as in first world countries. World-wide, women have been expropriated from their subsistence work by seeing their work in relation to market economy and by placing it lower down in a hierarchy in relation to the market economy. Women, who had been powerful subsistence workers, were transformed into powerless “housewives”, who – in a second step of a developing process – were then integrated into the world work market by performing paid work in addition to unpaid work. Theoretical

Assumptions about the Relationship of Women and Nature/Women and the Environment

Certain theoretical assumptions, closely connected with the names of Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies, figure under the label of “ecofeminism” within gender research. There are different theoretical lines of the ecofeminist approach; the USA and Australia have created their own ecofeminist theoretical traditions (Henderson 1983, King 1989, Biehl 1991, Salleh 1994). However, all forms of ecofeminism stress women’s privileged bond with nature/environment. This assumption has been widely discussed in gender research.

The classic yet still unresolved topic of women’s relationship to nature entails cultural-specific understandings of nature, of gender-division and of women’s relationship with nature. Vandana Shiva stresses the ethical point of “women as care-takers” and sees the linkage between nature and women as being due to a gendered cultural development that led to a deeper spiritual connection of women to nature than men have (Shiva 1988, Mies/Shiva 1993). Maria Mies sees the “nearness” of women to nature as a result of societal historical developments in which women, because of their capacity of giving birth, are bound to nature in a special way. Materialistic ecofeminists see the privileged bond of women with nature as a result of a societal and cultural development that excluded experiences of embodiedness (Mellor 2001). Some have, as well, an anthropological-psychological perspective on human beings as fundamentally containing aspects of femininity and masculinity. They explain ecological destructiveness as caused by the one-sided assertion of masculinity (Henderson 1983). In opposition to the ecofeminist approach, the Indian ecologist Bina Agarwal argues for a “feminist environmentalism”.

This is a more materialistic and pragmatic political approach. She raises broader issues about the management of gender relations in connection with environmental management strategies and stresses the role of customs, laws and social structures in determining women’s relationship to their environment. In this perspective the different forms of relationship to the environment are seen as caused by different forms of interaction between human beings and their material interests (Agarwal 1991, 1997).

2.2Women and the Environment:UNDP discussion

The online discussion on Women and the Environment was a collaborative initiative between the

Gender Unit of UNEP and the Gender Unit of UNHABITAT. The discussions which were posted on the UNHABITAT discussion forum were moderated by UNEP. The online discussion was part of a series of United Nations online discussions dedicated to the fifteen-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (2000). The series of discussions were organized by WomenWatch, an inter-agency project of the United Nations Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE).

The online discussion on women and the environment was intended to build upon the recommendations made at the Beijing plus 10 Review and highlight the emerging environmental

and disaster related challenges and impact of these issues on meeting the commitments made under the Beijing Platform for Action. The objective of the e-discussion was to bring together experts, practitioners and policy-makers, from within and outside of the UN system to formulate critical policy messages to the 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action; the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review on gender equality (AMR); and the High-level Plenary Meeting of the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly, focused on the Millennium


1. Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels.

2. Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for sustainabledevelopment.

3. Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional or international levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women.

Key achievements and challenges were identified in the five and ten-year reviews of the Beijing Platform for Action. Since then, there has been further progress in many areas, although several gaps and challenges persist. Participants were encouraged to bring out issues of innovations by women that enable them to manage the environment or adapt to emerging environmental challenges such as climate change and to share how women’s knowledge can influence and inform policy, and how successful innovations that have been identified can be up-scaled and replicated. Where such efforts have already been undertaken, participants were encouraged to share good practices to show that it is possible to influence and inform policy from the grassroots. The online discussion on Women and the Environment provided an opportunity for stakeholders to share views on achievements, gaps and challenges, and propose future action.

The discussion ran for four weeks (1 – 26 February, 2010). We had very interesting and informative postings from every continent, with close to 156 individuals registered as participants in the discussions. Participants were from different disciplines, backgrounds and organizations, including academics, non-governmental organizations, researchers, gender advocates, civil servants, international organizations, etc. They actively participated and shared their thoughts and experiences and made cogent recommendations on Women and the Environment. There were over 2505 hits and over 50 contributions, which reflected the broad nature of the topic and its relevance.

Many points of view were expressed, and the discussions were lively and fruitful.

Women’s leadership in environment

The empowerment of women and the enhancement of women’s leadership in the environmental sector are important objectives of the UNEP GC decision 23/11 (2005). Since 1995 women’s leadership in the environmental sector has increased in seven of the reporting countries, remained the same in two countries, and followed mixed trends in four countries. Women are involved in a range of activities sponsored by civil society organizations and governments. Two countries have specific documentation on success stories of women’s participation in environmental decision-making. In seven other countries success stories are collected through an award or competition or through other initiatives of women’s organizations and the government. Five countries report women’s active participation in environmental education and training, while they are absent in one country and equal to men’s participation in another country.

In 13 other countries, limited data or specifics were provided. In many countries women’s organizations and environmental organizations play an important role in promoting women’s participation in environment. The greatest obstacles to women’s participation in environment include social restrictions, time availability, illiteracy and lack of awareness, as well as limited (access to) resources.