THE EARTH TIMES
Experts join women’s rights issues with poverty, environment, jobs
Findings will be made available to Beijing Conference
BY ASHALI VARMA
NAIROBI Kenya—Some 50 experts on gender issues from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and Asia gathered here recently for the “International Seminar on Gender and Environment.” The event was organized by the United Nations Environment Programme, and participants, most women, presented papers concerning the empowerment of women and the critical role they play in sustainable development.
In his opening speech, Unep’s deputy executive director, Reuben Olembo, said, “The outcome of this seminar will be a publication which will be made available at the Beijing Conference.” He also said that “more consideration should be given to the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation and the impact of this process on women.”
Participants shared their experiences from fields on diverse as ecology, politics, education, communications, the grassroots and the media.
Fatima Ali Al-Hurabi, director of environmental planning in Yemen, spoke of the high illiteracy rate (more than 95 percent) among the rural women and that health services were poor and concentrated mostly in cities. However, in 1993 Yemen introduced a National Action Plan for Environment and Development which included the role of women in development and called for policy-oriented studies in a number of sectors, involving women.
Ding Jing, a journalist with the China Environment News, spoke about the steps the Chinese government was taking to tackle its environmental problems, which included involving 200,000 women in training programs on environmental protection.
Mona Grieser of the US-based Global Vision Inc. spoke about the importance of environmental education and communication and the link between policy and action. Edna
Baryaruha, Uganda’s Commissioner of Gender, described how natural resources are central to the livelihood of poor rural households. Rural women are most dependent on the environment as their daily chores consist of cultivation, fetching water and firewood. In Uganda fuel wood consumption for households had increased to 75.6 percent in 1992. Realizing the significant role women play in sustaining livelihoods, the government has been implementing a gender-oriented policy development exercise which aims at addressing gender concerns.
Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, professor of environmental management at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, said: “We talk about women without really taking into consideration class differences. And we are reinforcing a lot of gender roles here. It would have been good if we could have challenged ‘ the preconceived roles that women have.”
Martue Vos, a member of parliament from the Netherlands, said that the seminar made her realize that women are more aware of the environment, and are more critical about economic systems because they are less involved in decision making at that level.
Fatma Morna of Nigeria said, that some participants talked about how tradition governs the life of a community, and hinders the empowerment of women. “This should be stopped but the impetus must come from within the communities themselves. This would’ be an important step in the empowerment of women,” added Morna.
The participants spent a day in two working groups and came up with recommendations
for Unep’s policy toward gender and the environment The suggestions included: an NGO network on women and the environment should be formed to facilitate information exchange; South-South cooperation and South-North cooperation should be encouraged including the exchange of information and expertise, in order to ensure consensus on the issues; the role of
women in environmental decision-making is critical; women’s empowerment can only take
place if national policies recognize and incorporate gender issues; the role of the media is important in raising awareness of women’s issues.
In an interview with The Earth Times, Honorine Kiplagat from Unep’s FocaI Point for Gender Issues, said, “One of the goals of this seminar was to provide a forum to share experiences on gender for the promotion and empowerment of women in the management
of natural resources.”
Kiplagat added that perhaps the strongest message that came out of the seminar was the
mission statement adopted by consensus, “The Earth is a common heritage for all. The quality of human life on Earth and the sustainable health of the planet depends upon the shared responsibility between women and men as equal partners.”