The Future that Women Want: No Time to Waste A Vision of Sustainable Development for All (1-3)
Rio+20 provides an opportunity for leaders to strengthen the foundation laid 20 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit to build a path towards a sustainable future. Twenty years ago, UN Member States unanimously agreed that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development”. UN Women presented a report to the 2012 Summit highlighting the priorities needed for the empowerment and participation of women in sustainable development.
Taking an Integrated Approach
Only an integrated approach can build equilibrium between present and future demands for economic progress across generations, social justice and use of natural resources that respects environmental and ecological development. While delivering on each of the three dimensions of sustainable development is important for women’s empowerment, it is not enough; it is imperative to take an integrated approach.
This would entail a shift to a sustainable development model in which the economic, social and environment dimensions involve
women as beneficiaries, leaders and contributors to growth that is inclusive.
Beijing Platform for Action on women and the environment
The Beijing Platform for Action dedicated one of its twelve critical areas of concern to women and the environment in addition to focusing on women and poverty, the economy and social issues, such as health and education.
Strategic Objective K recommended actions in three areas: (i) Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels; (ii) Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for sustainable development; and (iii) Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to assess the impact of development and environment policies on women.
The Platform calls for the integration of gender perspectives in the design and implementation of environmentally sound and sustainable resource management mechanisms and infrastructure development in rural and urban areas; the effective protection and use of the knowledge, innovations and practices of women; and for the participation of women in decision-making on sustainable resource management and the development of policies for sustainable development. socially equitable and just, and effectively manages resources and the environment.
Economic dimension: Inclusive growth is a critical element in ensuring the outcomes of development efforts are equitably distributed.
When women have access to resources and opportunities and participate on an equal footing in economic life, they are in a better position to fill their roles as drivers of development outcomes and take advantage of sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Evidence shows that this not only benefits women themselves, but also contributes to economic growth. Yet, the feminization of poverty, women’s unpaid work, their concentration in informal and vulnerable employment and constraints on their access to productive resources and capital and the lack or absence of women representatives and voices in key decision-making bodies restrain women’s contributions to productivity, efficiency and sustainable development. Further steps are required to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment perspectives into policies and strategies for economic growth, poverty reduction, economic and financial infrastructure, as well as to provide women and men with equal access to productive assets and resources (e.g. land and other property, and finance), decent work and essential services (e.g. energy and water).
Social dimension: Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental aspects of social justice. Social norms, gender stereotypes, unequal and limited access to resources, health and education services limit women’s ability to participate as full and equal participants in all aspects of life. Despite making progress on the normative framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment over recent decades, there is a long way to go to ensure women’s rights within the family, community and society. Among many examples, indigenous women lack many rights and are almost forgotten or side-lined by economic policies and development strategies that do not provide environmental and social safeguards that could address their social exclusion.
Social policies that encompass the principles of inclusiveness, equity and environmental sustainability would contribute to creating an enabling environment for growth to be more distributive and beneficial to different groups of women and men—and consequently advance the attainment of sustainable development.
Environmental dimension: Women as agricultural producers, workers, and resource managers contribute to influencing sustainable consumption and production, safe guarding the natural environment and biodiversity, preserving traditional knowledge and allocating adequate and sustainable resources within the household and community. Women as farmers make decisions and choices under highly constrained conditions; to survive; they must use their indigenous knowledge to plant and conserve seeds. Within the context of the care economy, women living in poverty have to manage different allocations of scarce resources from water to energy. This is particularly the case when confronted with environmental degradation, which increases women’s care burdens. In addition, it affects their consumption patterns and overall management of natural resources by the community. However, current policy frameworks place insufficient importance and consideration on these roles or how these roles are affected by market and non-market production and consumption.
Providing women with opportunities and resources and engaging them in decision making processes regarding the environment could improve their social livelihoods and well-being, and benefit entire communities in areas that advance sustainability.
Women’s Agency and Leadership
Women have organized at all levels—from grassroots to national and international—to advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment, for people-centred development in policy and funding frameworks, to develop concrete initiatives that improve the lives of women and their communities and to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development into decision-making and implementation.
Women’s organizing and calls for change have taken place within many different types of civil society organizations, local and national governments, and in the informal and formal sectors of the economy. Women have challenged existing power relations and discriminatory laws, policies and institutions. They have advocated for women’s rights, including their right to participate fully in decisions that shape their lives, whether it is access to water, safe sources of energy or the development of global norms.
Similarly, feminist economic scholars have made important contributions by highlighting the role of women’s unpaid care work that maintains communities and economies, but which is often ignored in systems of national accounting and in policymaking.
Women have successfully challenged traditional views of themselves as victims and asserted instead that they are agents of change, innovators and decision makers. Women’s organizing has led to some severe responses and repercussions, as illustrated by the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, which documented 33 cases of violence against women working on environmental issues between 2004 and 2009.
The success of women’s leadership and organizing for change can be seen in increased calls by different stakeholders for investments in women and girls in order to achieve economic growth, reduce poverty and reach other goals. This new approach creates new opportunities for promoting equality, inclusiveness and people centred strategies.
The local level has provided an important entry point for women to drive and lead solutions to sustainable development. Not only do women and men in local communities directly face specific problems, but they are also the most motivated to solve them.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 29/07/2012