Why Women Will Save The Planet

Why Women Will Save The Planet

by Friends of the Earth


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ISBN-13: 9781783605798
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 12/15/2015
Pages: 213
Sales rank: 1,271,268
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Friends of the Earth is an international network of environmental organizations in 74 countries that campaigns for a healthy and sustainable relationship between human beings and the environment.

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Why Women Will Save the Planet

A Collection of Articles for Friends of the Earth

By Jenny Hawley

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Friends of the Earth
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78360-580-4



University of Essex

Women's empowerment and environmental sustainability in the context of international UN agreements


Why should environmental activists be interested in women's empowerment? Not because women are intrinsically closer to nature than men, and better equipped to save the planet. But because neither environmental sustainability nor women's empowerment can be achieved without challenging patterns of economic growth and configurations of economic power that do not take into account non-market resources, not only climate and oceans, but also the unpaid care work that is vital to human well-being, and which is disproportionately women's work. There are important synergies between environmental sustainability and women's empowerment that need to be explored, and the social movements focused on each goal can be strengthened through collaborative efforts. These arguments are explored here in relation to UN agreements pertaining to the environment, and the struggle over what 'green economy' will signify in practice.

International UN agreements on the environment and women's empowerment

Beginning with the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, a series of international agreements have linked the participation of women in activities related to the agreements as important for fulfilment of the aims of the agreements. Thus, Principle 20 of the official Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that the full participation of women is essential to achieving sustainable development. The trio of global environmental conventions that followed this conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – all make reference to the importance of enhancement of women's participation in relevant public bodies.

A concern with women's empowerment is repeated in the outcome document of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, The Future We Want:

We recognize that gender equality and women's empowerment are important for sustainable development and our common future. We reaffirm our commitments to ensure women's equal rights, access and opportunities for participation and leadership in the economy, society and political decision-making. We underscore that women have a vital role to play in achieving sustainable development. We recognize the leadership role of women, and we resolve to promote gender equality and women's empowerment and to ensure their full and effective participation in sustainable development policies, programmes and decision-making at all levels.

However, despite the lip-service paid to women's participation in decision-making, it appears that there has been little of substance, with efforts ranging from 'exclusion to nominal inclusion'. The discussion on gender and climate change focused primarily on local-level vulnerabilities and adaptation; with only limited attention to gender issues in discussions involving large-scale technology, market-based initiatives and climate finance. A pioneering effort to construct an environment and gender index included indicators for presence of women in Conference of Parties (CoP) delegations and policy-making positions, and inclusion of gender issues in UNFCC reports, UNCCD reports and CBD reports. It found that the global average for women was 36 per cent of those participating in intergovernmental negotiations on climate change, biodiversity and desertification. The Conference of Parties in 2012 adopted a resolution to promote gender balance in bodies of and delegations to UNFCC and to include gender and climate change as a standing item on the CoP agenda. However, these negotiations are only one space among many, and there is little data on women's ability to exercise decision-making power in environmentally sensitive production and consumption processes, especially those dominated by multinational corporations.

There is indeed evidence that women's participation in environmental management can make a difference: for example, their effective involvement in community forest management bodies has yielded positive outcomes for both forest sustainability and gender equality. However, a recent UN Women report argues that there has too often been a presumption that women could be harnessed as 'sustainability saviours' based on the assumption that women are especially close to nature and have time to spare:

Women–environment connections – especially in reproductive and subsistence activities such as collecting fuel wood, hauling water and cultivating food – were often presented as if natural and universal rather than as the product of particular social and cultural norms and expectations. Ensuing projects and policies often mobilized and instrumentalized women's labour, skills and knowledge, adding to their unpaid work without addressing whether they had the rights, voice and power to control project benefits.

Moreover, it is vital to recognise that some measures to address environmental sustainability may have adverse impacts on some women. For instance, biofuel production could run counter to the ability of women smallholders to provide food for their families. Higher consumer prices for energy may encourage consumers to 'economise' in their use of energy and not to waste it, but in the context of poverty and inequality may confront low-income women with the terrible dilemma of providing 'heating or eating' for their families.

What matters is not the simple presence or absence of women in climate change delegations or on committees to manage environmental resources. What matters is how women's empowerment and sustainable development are framed, how the determinants of gender inequality and harmful climate change and environmental degradation are understood, and what kinds of measures are introduced to reduce them both. Are the means of implementation profit-driven? Or are they rooted in collective social investment and regulation, recognising the importance of resources and activities that are not commercialised?

Meanings of empowerment and sustainability

Both of these terms can be understood in narrow ways, disconnected from rights and justice. For instance, women's empowerment can be understood as more women being present in the public sphere, participating in the market economy or being elected to parliaments and other public bodies. But this ignores the question of the quality of this participation. Do women enjoy the rights at work that are set out in human rights treaties and ILO Conventions? Are women earning a living wage? Are their jobs secure? Are they able to combine employment with caring for other people without being penalised by low wages, poor promotion prospects, lack of security, unhealthy working environments? Are the women in parliaments, and other public bodies, mere tokens, subject to sexist practices, with most women unable to exercise real decision-making power? A much broader understanding is offered by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which suggests that women are empowered 'by an enabling environment to achieve equality of results' in terms of enjoyment of all human rights, something that applies to the private sphere of the home and community, as well as to the public spheres of the market and the state. This requires transformation of existing societies and economies and not merely integration of women into the public sphere, as Articles 3 and 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women indicate. This has been spelled out by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which has said that governments must adopt measures to bring about 'a real transformation of opportunities, institutions and systems so that they are no longer grounded in historically determined male paradigms of power and life patterns'.

The disproportionate responsibility that women bear for carrying out unpaid work is an important constraint on their capacity to realise their rights, as has been emphasised in a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. Thus, a key transformation is the recognition, reduction and redistribution of the unpaid work of caring for families and communities, so that unpaid work that is drudgery (such as collecting fuel and water) is reduced, and other unpaid work, such as caring for children, is redistributed, some of it to men in households and communities, and some of it to paid workers in public and private sectors. Both women and men need time to care for their families and communities, and time free from such care – something that is often discussed in Europe in terms of 'work–life balance'.

Environmental sustainability can be understood in terms of not breaching the planetary boundaries that have been identified as keeping the planet within a safe operating space for humanity. But this ignores the question of inequalities between people, the distribution of the costs and benefits of actions to avoid breaching critical thresholds, and the foundational importance of respect for human rights. It is important to keep in mind intergenerational issues so that we can 'meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. But in doing so, we must not ignore the fact that many people are dying today because of unmet needs – for instance, the maternal mortality of low-income women in developing countries has remained stubbornly high despite the Millennium Development Goals and many avoidable deaths are occurring. Thus we need to be not only Friends of the Earth but also Friends of the Poor, and those subject to discrimination. These considerations are perhaps addressed by the post-Rio+20 discourse about the three dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. But this can be a cover for a wish to simply maintain unequal patterns of profit-driven economic growth, hoping to avoid social disruption, economic crises and environmental disasters through piecemeal adaptation and mitigation measures, rather than transforming our economies and societies.

Both 'empowerment' and 'sustainability' as used in most UN documents are ambiguous concepts, whose meaning is revealed only in the context of specific practices. If the practices of profit-driven economic growth dominate, this will severely restrict the kinds of 'empowerment' and 'sustainability' that are possible to those that are profit-conforming, and may in fact prevent the transformations that are necessary for women to be fully empowered, and use of natural resources to be fully sustainable.

There is evidence that strongly suggests that the underlying causes and consequences of unsustainability and gender inequality are deeply intertwined and rooted in profit-driven economic processes. These involve market liberalisation, productive and financial activity geared to short-term profits; unrestrained material consumption; unparalleled levels of militarism; privatisation of public goods and services and reduction of the capacities of governments to regulate and redistribute. As well as environmental degradation and harmful climate change, these processes have caused in many places crises of care, which entails the breakdown in the abilities of individuals, families, communities and societies to sustain and care for themselves and future generations, undermining people's rights and dignity.

Green economy: gender equitable and environmentally sustainable?

The idea of promoting a green economy has become popular in UN agencies as a way to address environmental sustainability and create 'green' jobs. There are several variants of 'green economy', though most embrace the goal of economic growth; the difference being mainly in terms of the relative roles of public and private investment. Dominant variants of green economy assume continued, even enhanced, profit-driven economic growth, through green business investments and innovations that increase energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of ecosystem services. They call for financial valuation of 'natural capital', payments for ecosystem services, and schemes for trading carbon and biodiversity credits and offsets, arguing that the problem is that markets fail to price natural assets and ecosystem services, resulting in overuse of 'natural capital'. Governments must define private property rights in ecological assets and create markets to trade them. However, UNEP has a broader vision, seeing a green economy as one that ends extreme poverty, improves human well-being and enhances social equity while reducing carbon dependency and ecosystem degradation, and furthering sustainable and inclusive growth.

The case for 'green' public investments was much discussed and promoted as part of the (short-lived) counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies adopted in the wake of the 2008 global recession in both developed and developing countries, often framed as a 'global green new deal' (GGND) in which government spending would be directed towards technology and employment generation in ways that enhance environmental protection and raise efficiency, for instance by retrofitting energy-inefficient buildings or infrastructure. UNEP's version of GGND emphasised the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of developed countries, emerging economies, countries with economies in transition, and least developed countries. A 'fair and just GGND, therefore, should consider including developed countries' additional support to other countries, especially least developed countries, in the areas of finance, trade, technology and capacity building in the interest of effectiveness as well as fairness'.

Gender equality has been a marginal concern in most of the green economy proposals. Given the extent of gender segregation in employment, there is a risk that efforts to 'green' industry will not only bypass women, but actually marginalise them. Sectors targeted for green employment expansion, such as energy, construction and basic industry, are very male-dominated. Among 'green' jobs that already exist, women tend to have low representation and/or occupy the lower value-added rungs. For instance, in the OECD, where women hold more than half of university degrees, only 30 per cent of degrees in science and technology (key areas for green jobs) go to women. In developing economies, women are highly concentrated at the low value-added end of existing green jobs, for instance as informal workers in waste collection and recycling. However, there have been efforts to organise waste pickers worldwide, and women are more likely than men to participate in waste picker organisations, perhaps because they tend to be concentrated in lower-earning waste picking activities, and are typically paid lower rates than men for equivalent work. Organised waste pickers are better able to circumvent middlemen and negotiate fair prices for their materials from buyers. There are also attempts to better incorporate waste pickers into waste management and recycling activities, countering the push towards incineration and landfill technologies, and instead promoting zero waste strategies that maximise recycling and provide decent employment for the poor.


Excerpted from Why Women Will Save the Planet by Jenny Hawley. Copyright © 2015 Friends of the Earth. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements x

About the contributors xi

Introduction Jenny Hawley 1

1 Women's empowerment and environmental sustainability in the context of international UN agreements Diane Elson 11

2 Women as drivers of forest restoration to combat climate change Wanjira Maathai 21

3 Why do gender equality and sustainability go hand in hand? Lyla Mehta Melissa Leach 28

4 Is there a specific role for women in helping to achieve environmental sustainability through politics? Caroline Lucas 38

5 The institutionalisation and masculinisation of environmental knowledge Susan Buckingham 49

6 Media empowering women in southern Madagascar Yvonne Orengo 58

7 Empowering a balanced and useful economics of sustainability: the role of gender Julie A. Nelson 68

8 The role of fashion in bringing about social and ecological change Anna Fitzpatrick 78

9 How the defence of the commons and territories has become a core part of feminist, anti-capitalist struggles Celia Alldridge 89

10 Hand in hand: women's empowerment and sustainability Vandana Shiva 101

11 Women's empowerment in sustainable agriculture Quinn Bernier Chiara Kovarik Ruth Meinzen-Dick Agnes Quisumbing 112

12 The impacts of environmental mismanagement on Egypt's poor Isabel Bottoms Amena Sharaf 123

13 How gender-sensitive are National Adaptation Programmes of Action? Selected findings from a desk review of thirty-one sub-Saharan African countries Nathalie Holvoet Liesbeth Inberg 132

14 Conflict and the environment in Somali society Shukri Haji Ismail Bandare Fatima Jibrell 140

15 Gender, participation and community forestry: lessons from beneath the canopy Esther Mwangi 148

16 Putting gender equality at the heart of Oxfam's work Barbara Stocking 158

17 From individual to communal rights: empowering women for sustainable use of natural resources Nidhi Tandon 164

18 Mother Earth Maria Mies 174

19 Sexual and reproductive health and rights: a win-win for women and sustainability Sarah Fisher 181

20 The power of grassroots action for women's empowerment and the environment Kate Metcalf 194

21 One hundred years of collective action for environmental change Marylyn Haines Evans 204

22 The impact of gender balance in the renewable energy sector Juliet Davenport 211

23 More women in business for a sustainable economy Emma Howard Boyd 219

24 Sustainability is about people Fiona Reynolds 229

25 Sexism and gender equality in British politics Cathy Newman 238

26 Mistresses of their own destiny: a history of women's empowerment in nineteenth-century British politics Sarah Richardson 243

Notes 257

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