Around the world, women are pulling above their weight to sustain communities despite barriers in access to nearly everything: education, information, paid work, credit, lands, freedom of movement, and resources such as adequate seeds and tools. And while women often stand at the forefront of climate change impacts, they are often excluded from the economic and political fora shaping the future of the planet’s development.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Landscape News takes a look at five ways better gender equity can power a green transformation for the benefit of all.
Preserving biodiversity and genetic plant resources
In developing countries, rural women make up almost half of the agricultural labor force and play a major role in caring for the natural resources on which their households depend, including fisheries and forests. Compared to men, they are more likely to prioritize a healthy diet for their children, and they have better knowledge of how to use herbal remedies to treat sick relatives.
Women provide nearly 80 percent of the total wild vegetable food collected in 135 subsistence-based societies, which contributes to dietary diversity as well as traditional medicine, upon which up to 80 percent of people in many developing countries rely. “Women often have a more specialized knowledge of various local and neglected species,” notes a UNEP report.
Yet, women often have crop yields that are 20 to 30 percent lower than those of men – known as a “yield gap” – due to inequitable access to adequate agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and improved seeds. In addition, they rarely receive benefits from large-scale commercialization of products, such as medicines and cosmetics, that are based on native species and the associated traditional knowledge. Overcoming these gaps could greatly contribute to global food and income security.
Exploring and sustainably using marine ecosystems
Ocean-based economic sectors are valued at USD 3 to 6 trillion per year globally, and marine ecosystems also provide essential services to humanity for free. They produce oxygen, protect coastal areas from flooding and erosion, and generate as much as 50 percent of animal protein for human consumption in numerous countries.
Women contribute to ocean-based livelihoods, conservation, waste disposal and disaster-risk reduction, but their efforts have been typically ignored, undermining their ability to inform and benefit from marine and coastal management.
They make up half of the workforce processing, cleaning and selling fish, but they are “largely concentrated in low-skilled, low-paid, seasonal jobs without health, safety and labor right protections,” illustrates UN Women. “They also earn approximately 64 percent of men’s wages for the same work in aquaculture and face the risks of ocean degradation with less resources on hand to build resilience.”
In regions such as Asia-Pacific, some coastal areas are becoming feminized as men move to cities to look for jobs, and the women who are left behind are increasingly exposed to climate change impacts such as natural disasters.
Meanwhile, some of the foremost leaders in ocean exploration have been women, such as Sylvia Earle, who pioneered the development of deep-sea submersibles; Marie Tharp, who produced the first world ocean floor map, disproving theories of an entirely flat seafloor; and Cindy Lee Van Dover, who has been unraveling mysteries of the deep sea through nearly 50 expeditions.
Embracing sustainable energy to fight climate change
Consuming less energy and adopting more sustainable energy sources are essential to mitigating global warming, and research has shown that women are more supportive of these strategies than men.
Hence, women can be instrumental in shaping better policies, opening new markets as energy entrepreneurs, and transforming energy use at the household level. In adopting cleaner sources of energy and more efficient ways to use them, women can also help fight indoor air pollution.
In Bangladesh, for example, air pollution contributes to 49,000 premature deaths every year, and four out of ten households use mostly firewood to cook. Improved cookstoves, biogas from manure and solar panels are some of the innovations women across the world are introducing into their communities, transforming habits and perceptions for a greener, healthier, future.
Managing natural resources to build peace
The more women can access and manage natural resources such as water, land, minerals and forests, the more chances a country has of recovering from conflict and setting the foundations for long-lasting peace.
Such is the realization that is guiding international efforts to unlock the peace-building potential of women in war-torn countries. In peace-building contexts, women are usually responsible for providing families with water, food and energy, but do not have a voice in policy-making or as forces for economic recovery.
Sustainable resource use and equitable benefit distribution are fundamental to peaceful, prosperous societies. Failing to capitalize on women’s roles in natural resource management can perpetuate inequity and undermine recovery from conflict, point out UN agencies working at the intersection of women, peace and the environment.
Building true consensus on sustainable development
Sustainably using the world’s natural resources calls for broad consensus. Women make up half of the world’s population, and they are often the main users and custodians of the resources their families depend on to survive. Making their perspectives, aspirations and experiences count matters.
As the nineteenth-century astronomer and expert in ocean navigation Maria Mitchell put it: “No woman should say ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman… What more can you ask to be?”