Although the first
United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm,
1972, which also saw the establishment of the UN Environment
Programme (UNEP), officially linked the physical environment and society in its
title, in the 1960s and 1970s social issues were still largely disconnected from
environmental policies and programmes. When the World Conservation Strategy
– living resource conservation for sustainable development (IUCN, UNEP,
WWF) - was launched in 1980, the focus of that document on social-environmental
linkages still was presented in a gender-neutral way.
Third UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi in 1985, however, was among the first
international fora that made explicit the linkages between sustainable
development and women’s involvement and empowerment as well as gender equality
and equity. In the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies, ‘the environment’ was
included as an area of concern for women.
During the Nairobi conference in 1985, UNEP hosted a special Session on Women
and the Environment, and UNEP’s Senior Women Advisors Group (SWAG) was
established to advice the organization on bringing a gender perspective in its
In the run-up to the worldsummit2002.org/guide/unced.htm" target="_blank">United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Secretariat for UNCED, UNEP and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) as well as NGOs such as WEDO and WorldWIDE, undertook a number of advocacy activities that reflected the conclusions reached at the 1985 Nairobi NGO-Forum workshops, that stated: “The growth of women’s power and the sustainability of development are ecologically tied.”(ELC, 1985). They underlined that women not only bear the highest costs of environmental problems, but as m”(ELC, 1985). They underlined that women not only bear the highest
costs of environmental problems, but as managers of primary resources, also have
the greatest potential for contributing to the solution of the crisis.
The advocacy activities during the UNCED process resulted in a reasonably
engendered ‘Agenda 21’, not only including more than 145 references to the
specific roles and positions of women in environment and sustainable
development, but also a separate chapter 24 entitled ‘Global action for
women towards sustainable development’. This chapter acknowledges the need
for a broad participation of women – as a major group – at all governmental
levels and in all UN agencies related activities in sustainable development, as
well as the need for the integration of a gender perspective on sustainable
development planning and implementation.
United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995
identified environment as one of twelve critical areas for women.
Section K of the Beijing Platform for Action, on women and the environment,
asserted that “women have an essential role to play in the development of
sustainable and ecologically sound consumption and production patterns and
approaches to natural resource management” (paragraph 246).
Five years later at the
Millennium Summit in New York, world leaders promised in the Millennium
Declaration “to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as
effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate
development that is truly sustainable”. This vision was reflected in the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 1, eradicate extreme
poverty, MDG 3 promote gender equality and empower women, and MDG 7 ensure
environmental sustainability. However, until now, in governmental reporting on
MDG 7 environmental linkages to gender equality are neglected.
As input for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, women as major group
prepared two documents (ECOSOC/UN, 2001 and 2002), in which progress on the
implementation of Agenda 21 from a gender perspective was reviewed. It was
concluded that at international, national and local levels important steps had
been taken, but that these were rather scattered and that most had an ad hoc
character. The review showed that there has been no real integration of gender
issues into global environment and sustainable development policies and
activities, let alone a thorough mainstreaming of gender concerns in these
Instead of real implementation, more commitments were made.
Principle 20 of the Johannesburg Declaration of the
World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) reads: “We are committed
to ensure that women’s empowerment and emancipation, and gender equality are
integrated in all activities encompassed within Agenda 21, the Millennium
Development Goals, and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.” Among the
153 paragraphs of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) 30 refer to
gender aspects. These deal with: benefits of sustainable development to women;
the elimination of violence and discrimination; access to health services;
access to land and other resources (particularly in Africa); the enhancement of
the role of women in resources management; education for all; participation of
women; gender mainstreaming; and gender specific information and data. Major
advocacy efforts resulted in a decision by the Commission on Sustainable
Development at its 11th session in 2003 to make gender a cross-cutting issue in
all its upcoming work up until 2015.
In a global context in which gender inequality proves to be one of the most
pervasive forms of inequality (UNDP, 2005), the international community during
10 year Review of the Beijing Platform for Action>, recommitted itself to the global goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women.