and men

Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results

Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

11 Women and the environment: the right to a healthy and productive life threatened world-wide

"Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature", states Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration, adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June ´92.

Far away as yet from the ideal of Rio

This quotation comes at the beginning of the chapter on women and the environment in the Platform which concludes that humanity as a whole has not yet come any closer to this ideal state. In fact, general global survival data, collected for the purpose of taking stock, illustrate that humanity is moving constantly further away from this goal.
Worsening conditions in the environment displace whole communities from productive activities, in particular women. Rising sea levels as a result of global warming of the atmosphere threaten people living in coastal areas and in island countries. Uncontrolled ozone depletion severely affects the protective layer of the atmosphere so that increasing amounts of ultra-violet rays reach the Earth, with serious consequences for humanity and the environment. This causes higher rates of skin cancer, eye damage and a generally weakened immune system. Plants and animals are harmed in water and on land, thus reducing the harvest yields. Natural disasters, deterioration of resources, war and civil war with violence, displacement and terror are interrelated in their destructive effects on ecosystems. They have a particularly harmful impact on women and girls.

Ever faster destruction of ecosystems

In complete agreement with Chapter 4 of Agenda 21 in the Rio Declaration, the Platform explicitly refers to this chapter, leaving no doubt about the relevant causes for continued degradation of the global environment, where behavioral changes will be a matter of survival: "While poverty results in certain kinds of stress, the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries". The destruction of ecosystems caused by the industrialized countries further aggravates the situation of poverty and increases imbalances. Poverty and environmental degradation are closely interrelated: "All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in the standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of people of the world".

Production and consumption in industrialized countries is a major cause of destruction

The Platform bases its hope for vital change on the fact that in the last ten years people have become increasingly aware of the limited nature of world resources and of the level of their destruction and depletion which has already been reached. The new development paradigm of quality and sustainability of patterns of consumption and production, which was promoted at the Earth Summit, will not succeed in the long run if women and men are not involved alike: "Sustainable development will be an elusive goal unless women´s contribution to environmental management is recognized and supported". In the light of this conclusion, which is based on the role of women in development as described in Chapter 24 of Agenda 21, the Platform formulates its first strategic objective: "Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels".

Increasing awareness of limits to growth

The Platform also states that "women remain largely absent" at all levels of environmental policy formulation and decision-making. Their experience and skills "in advocacy for and monitoring of proper natural resource management too often remain marginalized in policy-making and decision-making bodies, as well as in educational institutions and environment-related agencies at the managerial level". Women are rarely trained as professional natural resource managers. Even in cases where women are trained to become experts in resource management, "they are often under-represented in formal institutions with policy-making capacities at the national, regional and international levels. Often women are not equal participants in the management of financial and corporate institutions whose decision-making most significantly affects environmental quality. Furthermore, there are institutional weaknesses in coordination between women´s non-governmental organizations and national institutions dealing with environmental issues, despite the recent rapid growth and visibility of women´s non-governmental organizations working on these issues at all levels".

Women de facto excluded from responsibility in environmental policy

The Platform assumes that by de facto excluding women from decisions on environmental policy valuable knowledge remains untapped. Women have already demonstrated their leadership roles in promoting an environmental ethic by using resources carefully and by recycling used material. Women, in particular indigenous women, have specialized knowledge of ecological linkages and fragile ecosystem management. In many regions, women provide the main labour force for subsistence production; "hence, their role is crucial to the provision of food and nutrition, the enhancement of the subsistence and informal sectors and the preservation of the environment. In certain regions, women are generally the most stable members of the community, as men often pursue work in distant locations, leaving women to safeguard the natural environment and ensure adequate and sustainable resource allocation within the household and the community".

Ecological knowledge of women disregarded

Strategies and actions to be taken

For the benefit of sustainable development, more attention must be paid to the skills, interests and concerns of women at all levels; conversely, the gender-specific impacts of development and environmental policies must be studied more intensively world-wide, assessed and tailored to the needs of women.

Gender perspective for environmental policy

Studies should also be carried out on the extent to which women in particular are exposed to environmental degradation and hazards because of their sex. Some key words from the list of items in the Platform: unsustainable production and consumption patterns, drought, poor quality of drinking water, global warming, desertification, sea-level rise, hazardous waste, natural disasters, toxic chemicals and pesticide residues, radioactive waste... Special attention is directed towards studying the situation of women with low incomes and indigenous women. The commitment for incorporating a "gender perspective" at all levels runs like a red thread through the whole fabric of 37 environment-related actions to be taken.
The Commission on Sustainable Development established in Rio must take gender impact into consideration in its work, as must all the other UN bodies which are active in the field of development and international financial institutions. More involvement of women is demanded for projects funded under the system of Global Environment Facility, with more women in planning and project management and more of them as beneficiaries. Social, economic, political and scientific institutions, which address environmental degradation and the resulting impact on women, should receive support.

Responsibility for environmental policy planning to be shared with women

In Beijing, the national Governments committed themselves to develop "a strategy for change to eliminate all obstacles to women´s full and equal participation in sustainable development" and to provide equal access to resources. Equal participation and control is required for decision-making on environmental policy at all levels. With this in mind, access to environment-related education should be facilitated and improved. Women should be encouraged to become involved in decision-making, planning, management, science and technical consulting, especially at a local level. The precautionary approach in environmental policy as agreed in Rio should be enforced by applying clean technologies in all areas of life with the aim of reducing environmental hazards.

Committed to "a strategy of change"

In the developing countries in particular, women need technical assistance for small businesses, industry and commerce, in agriculture and fishery to acquire environmentally safe technologies and to support women entrepreneurs.
The 189 Governments have agreed in Beijing to ensure "that clean water is available and accessible to all by the year 2000 and that environmental protection and conservation plans are designed and implemented to restore polluted water systems and rebuild damaged watersheds".

Clean water for all by the turn of the century


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997