UNEP: Gender and Environment

There is a general misunderstanding about what we mean when we refer to gender and environment. Gender mainstreaming refers to a policy of reflecting gender in all policies and programmes and to examining the effects of decisions on women and men, respectively, It is crucial that gender mainstreaming be a central factor in UNEP polities and programmes.

The topic of Gender and Environment is far more than gender mainstreaming. The discussion of Gender and Environment is based on two precepts:

  1. That gender mediates human/environment interactions and all environmental use, knowledge, and assessment; and
  2. That gender roles, responsibilities, expectations, norms, and the division of labor shape all forms of human relationships to the environment,
It is now very clear that gender differences and inequalities influence the extent and nature of almost every form of environmental encounter, use, and impact.

Examples from Rwanda: (1) The annual population growth rate in Rwanda is very high - over two percent. Any attempt to introduce family planning by aid agencies is met with considerable resistance by the government, churches and mosques. This is a gender issue, not a women's issue, because men control all three of these institutions. (2) At a site where American engineers had drilled new water wells, the quality of the groundwater was far higher than the river water that was traditionally the source of water for the community. Women, who collected water, did not have to travel as far, because the welts were closer to the community than the river was.

But the wells remained unused, Why? Because the main opportunity for social interaction among young men and women was when women went to the river to collect water while the men were fishing or irrigating crops.

These are two minor examples to help one get a sense of why the issue is ( and must 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.
Women and Technology Transfer
Women Need to Play a Key Role in the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies(ESTs). Chapter 34 of Agenda 21 defines Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) as technologies that protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they are substitutes.

UNEP IETC focuses on ESTs that must be underpinned by the concomitant development of more holistic environmental management strategies. In 2002, an IETC Expert Group on ESTs drafted a preliminary set of generic environmental criteria for assessing and evaluating ESTs that include both environmental and social issues. Involvement of women at every stage of the technology transfer cycle has been identified as a key social criterion that decision makers would need to take into consideration during planning processes.

Women, Water and Sanitation ESTs
While women's involvement is important at all levels of decision-making, their participation is critical in the successful transfer of technologies at the community and household levels, as this would have an immediate effect on their surrounding environment, and their health and livelihood. This would also influence their decision-making powers in the community/household. Attention should be paid to the fact that women at different stages of their life, for instance at their reproductive age, would be affected differently by the adoption of ESTs.

Focusing on water issues, women are major users of water, and also discharge most of used water from a household - through cooking, washing, cleaning, bathing children, etc. They are also key players in maintaining the hygiene of family members. For the water to be used in a sustainable manner, it is important that they are made aware of the interrelationships between the technologies selected, the way it is applied and used in the provision of potable water, the discharge of used water, and issues related to sanitation and health. It is thus important to involve women in both the decision-making process, i.e. selection of ESTs, as well as in implementation, i.e. adoption and use of ESTs.

CASE STUDY: In the suburbs and districts of Dibuchi, people drilled bore wells within the boundaries of their houses, where they also dug holes for toilet purposes. This resulted in water contamination and the spread of water-borne diseases, which led in turn to the death of many children. Such situation could have been avoided if EST was selected and adopted in an appropriate manner, taking women's needs and wishes into consideration.

Source: UNEP International Environmental Technology Center

The connections between gender relations, environmental change and vulnerability have only begun to be studied. Vulnerability to the detrimental effects of degraded environments are gendered; the effects of improvements in environmental quality don't ripple through a community in equal ways across race, age, class, and gender lines; and vulnerability to environmental change and abilities to cope with or compensate for environmental change are gendered.

A gender-segregated workforce results in different exposures to environmental risks for women and men. Consider these issues:

  • men might be exposed to toxic chemicals used in mining, women will be exposed to pesticides used in export flower-industry)
  • women's and men's income-generating activities may require specific resources (fuel, water) that produce particular wastes
  • environmental contamination produces different health hazards for men and women - women may be particularly vulnerable to home-based hazards such as indoor pollution
  • women's workload to provide resources for the household (water, fuel, food) increases when resources become scarce
  • if environmental hazards produce illness, men and women have different responsibilities for caring for ill family members
  • responses to environmental change vary with age, class, family hierarchy, and gender
  • biases in educational and training systems may mean that women are less equipped than their male counterparts to understand, cope with, and anticipate environmental change or resource conditions.

One of the cumulative effects of all these gendered relationships is that even perceptions of the environment and of the state of the environment are often shaped by gender.

Source: Abstracted from documents of -
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