24 Nov 2017 Récit Gender

Egalité des sexes, violence et pollution : une conversation avec Janet Kabeberi-Macharia

imageJanet Kabeberi-Macharia is UN Environment’s Senior Gender Advisor and Head of the Gender and Safeguards Unit. In UN Environment, Ms. Kabeberi-Macharia coordinates a dynamic team of five staff and a global network of over 60 gender focal points spread throughout the organization. This team aims to integrate gender systematically in UN Environment’s Programme of Work, while also strengthening institutional capacity and accountability. As she puts it, “Gender mainstreaming is everybody’s business.” Ms. Kabeberi-Macharia holds a PhD in Law from the University of Warwick.


25th November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of the global campaign “16-Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”. Why is this topic relevant to the work of UN Environment?

It’s all about “people and planet”, and “leave no one behind”, the two cornerstones of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. In the rural areas of the developing world, it is usually women and girls who walk long distances to collect water and firewood. Due to environmental degradation, they are walking longer distances to unfamiliar territories, exposing them to higher risks of sexual violence. As UN Environment strives to put people at the centre of its work, gender equality and gender-based violence issues are more relevant than before.

The 3rd session of the UN Environment Assembly is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from 4-6 December 2017, and the theme is “pollution”. Is gender-based violence relevant to this theme?

The links are clear but require elaboration. Water pollution is an integral part of environmental degradation, which exposes women and girls to violence on their journeys to water collection points. A survey in 25 Sub-Saharan Africa reveals that women spend a total of 16 million hours per day collecting water, while men spend 6 million hours. Another example is about women’s and girls’ gender roles with firewood, which poses double burdens to them. Depletion of forest resources causes women and girls to walk farther to collect firewood for household energy consumption, exposing them to violence. Coming back home, most often, it is the role of women to burn firewood for cooking, exposing them to indoor air pollution, which kills 4.3 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization.

The work of UN Environment is not confined to natural resources and rural areas. Could you give us a couple of examples of how gender, violence and pollution intersect in an urban context?

As UN Environment seeks to promote low-carbon transport in cities (thus reducing pollution), we have the potential to re-design transport systems that are friendlier to women and girls. In many urban metropolises, such as New Delhi and Nairobi, sexual harassment and violence is a daily struggle for women and girls. On the other hand, as UN Environment promotes solar and energy-efficient lighting in cities, it reduces women’s and girls’ risks to harassment and violence. From the four examples I have given, gender, violence and pollution are intimately linked.

Do you have any messages for the upcoming UN Environment Assembly?

As we try to “beat pollution”, the slogan for the Assembly, we should also beat violence. Gender equality and gender-based violence issues should be put at the core of the discussions, every man and woman representative should feel legitimate to talk about such issues. Here are some tips:

  • Link your discussion to people, women and men.
  • Give or ask for sex-disaggregated data.
  • Propose resolutions that narrow gender gaps of pollution or other topics.  

To learn more, explore UN Environment’s work on gender or contact Janet Kabeberi-Macharia at janet.macharia[at]unenvironment.org. Then sign the #BeatPollution pledge and find out how you can reduce your pollution footprint.