05 Jul 2016 Story Climate change

Integrating Gender in Ecosystems Management

We women do not want to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream; we want the stream to be clean and healthy – Bella Abzug (1920-1998).

Nairobi, 5 July 2016: UNEP places special emphasis on gender. It seeks to reconcile competing demands and find synergies among women, men, boys and girls in their different uses of ecosystems, whether that be for food, water or livelihoods.

In September 2015, member states of the United Nations agreed a historic new agenda for people and planet — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG). Gender equality and empowering all women and girls is a cornerstone of this development agenda.

"For UNEP the delivery of the SDGs is the guiding beacon for how ecosystems are to be managed. This includes SDG 5 on gender equality where the full and effective participation of women in decision-making around ecosystems is critical as part of efforts to reconcile competing demands around ecosystems," says UNEP ecosystems expert Niklas Hagelberg.

An important framework for integrating a gender dimension into sustainable development is the Convention on Biodiversity’s 2015-2020 Gender Plan of Action.

Among other things, it recognizes the importance of gender considerations to the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets; and encourages Parties to give gender due consideration in their national biodiversity strategies and action plans and to integrate gender into the development of national indicators.

UNEP made a commitment at Rio+20 (in 2012) to undertake a groundbreaking initiative to ensure that gender considerations would feature more prominently in its global environmental assessments.

This implies “lifting the roof off the household” and drilling down to sex and age-disaggregated data at community and household level.

To this end UNEP has just published the Global Gender and Environment Outlook.  See a UNEP press release here.

GGEO looks at six areas: food security and food sovereignty, domestic water and sanitation, energy, marine and coastal communities, forest ecosystems, and sustainable consumption and production, and recommends transformational, sustainable change.

It provides a comprehensive overview of the linkages between gender and the environment in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The project brought together experts from UNEP, other UN organizations, NGOs and academia. 

One area where there are significant gender gaps and inequalities is land ownership. Another is agriculture.

Women are major players in many agricultural systems. A gendered analysis underscores the importance of recognizing women’s and men’s agricultural roles and thus making sure that women’s and men’s needs, vulnerabilities, rights, barriers and constraints, knowledge, and resources are taken into account. Women need to be part of all discussions, in settings from the local to the global, about the nature of the problem(s), and possible solutions or coping strategies.

Many women play roles as `seed savers’ and managers, sometimes over many generations; women thus may have particular knowledge about plants and agricultural techniques that might help adaptation strategies. If women aren’t ‘at the ‘table’ when coping strategies and adaptation approaches are discussed, this knowledge won’t be represented, says Irene Dankelman, director of IRDANA Advice (on gender and sustainable development), and lecturer at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (Netherlands).

As key players in the agricultural system, women need equal access with men to resources and inputs such as credit, extension training, and new agricultural technologies. Currently, in most places, women are marginalized in these settings.

Although women farmers currently account for 60-80 per cent of all food production in developing countries, gender often remains overlooked in decision-making on access to and the use of land, land rights, and biodiversity resources. Empowering women to participate as equals in decision-making will assist efforts in biodiversity conservation. One way this can be done is with the support of male champions.

Women and men often have different perceptions of the nature of the problem, the severity of the problem, and possible solutions: partly because there is typically a gendered division of agricultural labour, so men and women have distinct sets of knowledge and direct experience of different parts of the agricultural system.

For instance, women are often more concerned with the dietary diversity of their children, while men might be more interested in a small number of cash crops.

Traditional roles also shape priorities: Women may prioritize care-giving responsibilities. Gendered labour distributions within households often result in men and women having different priorities for water use: in rural areas, men often utilize water for livestock and farming, while women use it for domestic needs and health and hygiene.

One recent study in India, for example, on the effect of women’s participation in local governing councils, found that female council heads tended to prioritize issues around drinking water provision, while male heads put more emphasis on irrigation systems.

“Ecosystem” is a rather broad concept. Women and men have different livelihoods and roles in coastal, forest, mountain, and dryland communitiies, so it’s a complex picture.

Climate change
Women are often disproportionately affected by climate change-related natural disasters, according to Water for a Sustainable World – Facts and Figures.

Unless men and women are included in all decision-making contexts – such as displacement, security matters, livelihoods and even participation in global fora like international climate change treaty meetings – solutions may not reflect all dimensions of the problem, may not impact on the root causes of inequalities, and thus may only be partially effective.

Gender analysis helps shed light on the ways the drivers of climate change are also gendered, and thus mitigation strategies will also need to take on board a gender lens, according to gender and environment expert Joni Seager.

In order to make climate-related interventions gender-sensitive, we need to assess who has access and control over (natural) resources (and e.g. climate information) of good quality, and who benefits from it.

Benefit sharing, poverty eradication
Equal benefit sharing is important. For example, wise management of the forest can offer sustainable livelihood opportunities to both women and men. The engagement and decision-making of women's groups in these efforts is often essential.

Since 2005, the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), a joint effort of the United Nations Development Programme and UNEP, has worked with governments in the developing world to demonstrate how an integrated approach to reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable use of the environment and natural resources can address the twin challenges of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
For example, one of the PEI programme’s projects involved working with women street vendors affected by Rwanda’s ban on plastics: Thanks to support from FONERWA (a Rwandan environment and climate change fund), they set up cooperatives to develop alternative packaging materials.

  • Women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries; this figure ranges from around 20 per cent in Latin America to 50 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia, and exceeds 60 per cent in certain countries. Although largely restricted to growing food crops and rearing poultry and livestock, women are responsible for 60 to 80 per cent of food production in developing countries
  • Women only represent 5-30 per cent of all agricultural landholders in lower income regions
  • If women had the same access to productive resources as men, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 per cent, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 per cent.
  • Closing the gender gap in terms of access to agricultural inputs alone could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger.

Source: UNEP’s December 2015 TEEB/Agriculture interim report

For more information, please contact: Niklas Hagelberg: [email protected]

Want to learn about the ecosystems approach? An online learning opportunity is coming up in September.