Women’s rights make a difference for the environment and sustainability

Statement by IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen, on International Women's Day.

Women discussion group in Tenedba-Eastern Sudan

Today, 8 March, marks the 2015 International Women’s Day, a day when the global community comes together to champion the rights of women. This day provides an opportunity to commemorate women, women’s achievements, and progress toward equality, but also to take stock — to carefully study the gains made and to dig deeper into the challenges. Women continue to play an integral role in addressing the complex environmental challenges our world faces, but data suggests that women's contributions are still undervalued.

In many countries, women hold specific roles and responsibilities that offer opportunities for deeper knowledge of natural resources and environment. Women make up 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world's 600 million poor livestock keepers. Women and girls collect water for their families and homesteads, globally spending 140 million hours each day to secure clean water used for essential cooking and drinking. Women’s knowledge of non-timber forest products, particularly medicinal plants and alternative food sources, means that a higher percentage of plants have been identified as edible and disease cures. Throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, women are poised to lead in small-scale energy entrepreneurship.

While these actions that women take on around the world — in addition to their daily household duties — are impressive, only 1% of women agricultural workers own land and women are at risk of sexual violence and discrimination as they travel further to collect clean water. Women are frequently not regarded as stakeholders in land and natural resource management. Furthermore, many of the world’s financing mechanisms have not yet reached women, their ideas, and their businesses. Increasingly, however, women are making their voices heard, women are connecting and showing their resilience, and demanding a seat at the decision-making tables.

Moreover, there is a growing awareness that gender equality and women’s empowerment are prerequisites for sustainable development and a just world. So how can we move faster in that direction? We need to have the data and the knowledge to address the issues head on.

At IUCN, we are working to address gender gap statistics. In 2013, we published the Environment and Gender Index (EGI). We also seek to help to secure global agreements that lay out concrete areas of action to achieve gender equality, women’s empowerment, and sustainable development. Compiling country performance data on gender and environment dimensions, such as through the EGI, can provide an incentive for governments to take action and improve their performance, while also enhancing national data collection and reporting.

Looking ahead, gender-related actions need robust tools to inform policy and decisions. IUCN is pleased to be collaborating with UN Women to create new data sets on women’s participation in environmental decision-making.

This research finds that women still have less access to environmental decision-making spheres at all levels. The newest database, which compiles indicators on women’s involvement in international environmental delegations and leadership of large environmental institutions, green parties, and environmental ministries at the national level, shows specifically where women’s leadership has advanced and where more progress is needed; for example:

- Across key environmental fora, less than a third of decision makers are women.
- 29%* of Rio Convention government delegates are women.
- 43%** of Rio Convention NGO representatives are women.
- Less than 25%** of Rio Convention focal points are women.
- Out of 43 international environmentally focused institutions, 35%** of the executive directors (or equivalent) are women.

(*As of 2014; **As of 2013.)

Reliable, well-founded data is essential for smart, evidence-based policy and for implementing commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment, not least in relation to the environment. With some of the best data to date on how countries are translating their commitments to environmental protection and women's empowerment at the national level, the EGI consistently finds that countries taking seriously their commitments to advancing gender equality in environmental arenas are making strides well beyond survival toward long-term wellbeing for all their citizens.

To truly ‘empower women and thereby empower humanity', the theme for this year’s International Women's Day, IUCN invites everyone to join us in ensuring that data reflects the full picture — that women are counted and that women’s leadership is championed, all towards a more sustainable, equitable and peaceful world.

Work area: 
Global Policy
Social Policy
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
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