Women and the environment are closely interlinked, throughout history, different nations glorified women as powerful symbols of nature, and nature has always been given the female characteristics: care, reproduction and life-giving. However, women’s involvement in the preservation of the environment has seldom been recognized and documented in world history.
One of the most significant phenomena in recent past has been the recognition of women rights to achieve sustainable development; many international agreements reflected this recognition, including Rio Declaration in 1992, which stressed the point of centrality of full women participation to achieve environmental sustainability. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 acknowledged the importance of gender equality and women empowerment, the CBD identified the integration of women right in biodiversity conservation as intrinsically vital.
Linking gender equality and sustainable development is not only important for ethical and moral reasons, but also because achieving gender equality as human rights of women is prerequisite of a fair and sustainable globe and future. Increasingly, achievement environmental sustainability is recognized as central to pursue development goals. It is crucial that gender equality —a human right—is central to this pursuit. Worldwide, there is a perception that women are closer to nature than men, as women interact directly and more intensively with the natural surroundings more than their counterparts’ men, which produced their profound experience, understanding and knowledge about the environment.
Many studies on women and environment have shown that women are significant role player in natural resources management and ecological preservation. Women have served as farmers, water and firewood collectors and scientists with more respective and caring attitude.
The interesting dilemma about all is since women interact directly with the environment, and because of their roles as home-managers, they are often vulnerable to several environmental threats and hazards especially rural women in developing countries. The toxic environmental hazards may increase the risk of birth defects, abortion, perinatal death, and fetal growth retardation.
There is growing evidence of the synergies between gender equality and environmental sustainability. While women participation is vital, their involvement in policy-making aimed at sustainability does not mean better gender equality, especially when the foundations of gender inequality remain unchanged. Governments and donor agencies target women as influential agents for green transformation.
However, such stereotypical assumptions which view women as “sustainability saviors” have risks, as it’s based on the assumption that women are unlimited resource that can sustain environments without consideration of women’s health, time, knowledge, interests and opportunities. Thus, women’s involvement in policy-making focused only at sustainability doesn’t mean better gender equality; on the contrary, increase of women’s already heavy unpaid work burdens without consideration of their benefits in advantage to the environment can worsen gender inequalities and power imbalances.
Despite the challenges, this is a time of great opportunity for women to make in the environmental sector. Worldwide, there are many examples of alternative pathways that move towards environmental sustainability and gender equality synergistically, which means respect for women knowledge, capabilities and rights, while ensuring that roles are matched with rights, control over resources and decision-making power.
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