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Women Environmentalists Demand End to Gender Apartheid

Governments urged to back feminine-friendly action plan for environment and development

Nairobi, 13 October 2004 - Unraveling the impact of toxic chemicals on women and girls and pin pointing their role in the environmental recovery of war-torn zones are among the recommendations made today at the close of a landmark UN Environnment Programme conference called WAVE.

Other proposals, which will be put to governments for action, include the developing of information kits on areas such as energy, global warming and indoor air pollution targeted at women and translated into local languages.

The Women as the Voice for the Environment (WAVE) assembly called for poor women’s groups to be singled out for special funding for water, sanitation and poverty alleviation schemes.

Finance for ecosystem management projects, covering such likely areas as wetlands, forests and mangrove swamps, should also be focused on poor women’s groups, delegates agreed.

Carbon sink projects, including forestry and grassland schemes designed to soak up emissions of global warming gases, should be promoted between women in developed countries and women in developing countries under the community carbon fund of the World Bank.

Waste awareness campaigns, involving poor women’s groups in cities and local authorities, are urgently needed. These should be backed up with pilot sustainable rubbish disposal projects in the Central Asia/Eastern Europe region, Africa, Latin America and either the United States, Canada or Europe.

These are some of the conclusions and recommendations from the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Women’s Assembly on Environment in Nairobi, Kenya, which was held in cooperation with the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

Today’s manifesto coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women convention (CEDAW) which will be marked by a ceremony at the United Nations headquarters in New York, United States.

Over 140 women from 60 countries including environment ministers from Iran, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland and Sweden have attended the Nairobi WAVE conference.

The assembly’s aim is to put women’s issues at the centre of the global environmental effort to deliver the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation.

The WAVE delegates will deliver their manifesto and recommendations, including project ideas, to governments attending UNEP’s Governing Council in February 2005.

A separate declaration by the Network of Women Ministers for the Environment, chaired by Lena Sommestad of Sweden and Rejoice Madubafhasi of South Africa, has been drafted and will also be presented at the 2005 Governing Council meeting where gender equality and empowerment will be a key theme.

Ms Sommestad said the meeting and delegates had been inspired by the presence of Hon. Professor Wangai Maathai, the new Nobel Peace Prize-winner and Kenyan assistant environment minister, who addressed the assembly at the opening.

“Having Wangari Maathai here was a wonderful boost for the work we are doing. It helped underscore the crucial links between environment and peace and the vital, but all too often ignored, role women have in these areas,” she said.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “Sustaining the environment is the peace policy of the 21st Century, so to have Wangari Maathai here, was not only an honour but a reminder of how women can transform our world for the better”.

“The delegates to our women’s assembly have, without doubt, presented the United Nations and governments with a challenging and lengthy list of important and concrete recommendations which can help guide our work over the coming years,” he said.

Mr Toepfer added that the recommendations reflected the unique vulnerability women have to environment-related health problems as well as their special role in managing and conserving the environment for current and future generations.

“In the past, the role of women and their know-how has often been side-lined. I sincerely hope that our assembly signals an end to this gender apartheid. All too often women are treated like second class citizens, with fewer rights and lower status than men. I hope we have now started a WAVE that will wash away the inequities of the past and bring women into the centre of environment and development issues,” said Mr Toepfer.

Srilatha Batliwala, chair of the board of directors of WEDO, said:” This process has been about re-focusing the attention of governments on the urgency of restoring women as critical allies and agents of environmental regeneration not as victims”.

“I hope governments, at UNEP’s Governing Council, take our recommendations and proposals extremely seriously and take them forward into the five year review of the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing plus 10 conference,” she said.

The three-day assembly has focused on the UN General Assembly’s forthcoming review of the Fourth World Conference on Women which was held in Beijing, China, in 1995. It has also looked at the five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals.

In their manifesto, the delegates say that “globalization, militarization, fundamentalism, and the market-driven economic model have undermined the achievement of the agreed goals”.

They “express deep concern about the massive, continuing degradation and pollution of our environment, with its far reaching effects on health and livelihoods or our communities, particularly indigenous women”.

Similar deep concern is expressed over ‘the ever-widening gap between rich and poor”, “unsustainable levels of production and consumption” and the “culture of fear and threat, with its many conflicts and increasing levels of violence and militarization”.

For more information, please contact: Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson and Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information: Tel.: 254-(0)20-623292, Mobile: +254-(0)733-682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org, or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254-(0)20-623084, Mobile: 254-(0)733-632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

To learn more about UNEP’s work with women and other civil society major groups and to read the assembly’s manifesto and recommendations, please visit http://www.unep.org/dpdl/cso/

An event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the women’s rights convention known as CEDAW will take place at UN Headquarters in New York today.

Those scheduled to attend include Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Louise Frechette and present and past CEDAW Committee Chairpersons and members: Dr. Feride Açar (Turkey), Dame Sylvia Cartwright, the first female High Court Judge and the current Governor-General in New Zealand, Ms. Ivanka Corti (Italy), Ms. Salma Khan (Bangladesh), Ms. Aída González Martínez (Mexico), and Ms. Charlotte Abaka (Ghana).

For media queries and interview requests on CEDAW, please contact: Renata Sivacolundhu, UN Department of Public Information, Tel: +1 212 963 2932 Fax: +1 212 963 1186 Email: mediainfo@un.org

UNEP News Release 2004/48




Further Resources

Women As the Voice for the Environment (WAVE)
Website of the UNEP Global Women's Assembly on the Environment: Fighting Poverty

Official Documents
from the Women As the Voice for the Environment (WAVE) Assembly

Public Information
Includes photo and video coverage from the Women As the Voice for the Environment (WAVE) Assembly

Earth Negotiations Bulletin
Daily coverage: including sound clips and speaker photos

Women's Environment and Development Organization

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an expert body established in 1982, is composed of 23 experts on women's issues from around the world.

UNEP Hosts First Women's Environment Assembly
UNEP Press release (11 October 2004)


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