Last week Nairobi played host to the first-ever UN Environment Assembly. In attendance was UN Women’s executive director Lakshmi Puri. She spoke on the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which continues to be a landmark normative agreement and the defining policy framework for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. The declaration stated that:
Women and the environment” is one of the 12 critical areas of concern with three strategic objectives:
- Involving women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels,
- Integrating their concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes, and
- Establishing ways to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women.
However she noted that nearly twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains an unfinished agenda that requires political recommitment and accelerated implementation, including for the critical area of concern of “women and the environment.
“This is why UN Women has launched a Beijing+20 campaign entitled ‘Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!’ We hope that our efforts will have a multiplier effect to create mass awareness and a broad movement in support of gender equality and women’s rights, not just among the general public but also among new constituencies and among leaders and decision-makers,” Puri said.
This month, as part of their campaign, they are putting special emphasis on women and the environment. This is because; Women are environmental leaders and actors. They are enablers and beneficiaries of sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental. They are agents of change for environmental sustainability.
Women are holders of traditional knowledge, managers of resources, environmental activists, innovators, caretakers of livelihoods, CEOs, parliamentarians, Heads of State and Ministers. There can be no comprehensive environmental management and decision-making without the full participation of women. “This is particularly true as we witness the enormous changes to the environment that have taken place in the last 20 years. I am thinking, for example, about climate change. From general skepticism twenty years ago, all regions have now witnessed the very concrete impacts of climate change. It is now more urgent than ever to put in place adaptation and mitigation strategies and it is essential that these strategies take gender perspectives into account.
“Indeed, while the impacts of climate change fall on all of us, the areas where women play a central role – food security, sustainable agriculture, energy, livelihoods, health, natural resource management and use, among others – are most directly impacted,” added Puri.
In her speech, Puri said overlooking gender equality issues and ignoring the voices, needs and priorities of half the world’s population in environmental responses, including climate change, will not only yield sub-optimal results; it will also lead to the exacerbation of existing inequalities and reverse progress already made on environmental sustainability and on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
She believes that putting in place a conducive environment for women to exercise their voice and agency as resilient leaders, innovators, and contributors in all aspects of the response to environmental management will deliver the highest returns.
“This was reaffirmed in the Rio+20 outcome, from which the UN Environment Assembly originated. In Rio, governments and all stakeholders unequivocally stated that gender equality and women’s empowerment are drivers of sustainable development. They underscored women’s vital role in achieving sustainable development.
“And they committed to ensuring that women benefit from equal rights, access, participation and leadership in the economy, society, decision-making and resource allocation, so that they can truly fulfill their role as environmental leaders.
Looking to the future, this is why it is critical to ensure that environmental dimensions are captured in a stand-alone sustainable development goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. At the same time, gender perspectives must be mainstreamed in all other goals, especially those with a strong environmental dimension, such as access to water and energy. Let us create a sustainable world where gender equality is a reality for every woman and girl. Just Picture It! The time is now,” she said.