Gender and the Environment

About Gender and Environment

Latest News on Gender and EnvironmentWomen represent more than half the world's population. They stand in the front line in terms of poverty, yet provide invaluable contributions to sustaining communities around the world and managing the earth's biodiversity and natural resources. Despite their role and know-how, women's contribution is regularly undervalued and ignored. Furthermore, women are uniquely vulnerable to environmental degradation. For example, it is well established that environmental hazards are among the major causes of global death and disease, and that the burden falls disproportionately on women and young children, especially in less developed countries.


UNEP is working to highlight the important role that women play in sustainable development. UNEP recognizes gender as a cross-cutting priority, and its programme of work promotes women’s participation in all environmental protection and sustainable development activities. Gender equality is now a cross-cutting priority in all UNEP activities, and the organization is systematically integrating gender perspectives into all its programme design and implementation, along with measurable goals and indicators.


UNEP has adopted a high-level, sustained commitment to internal capacity-building on gender mainstreaming, utilizing various strategies, including organizational workshops and training, changes in policy and practice, and real accountability for implementation. Rather than adding women’s participation and a gender approach onto existing strategies and programmes, gender mainstreaming aims to transform unequal social and institutional structures in order to make them profoundly responsive to gender. Achieving gender equality and equity is a matter of shifting existing power relationships to benefit those that are less empowered.


UNEP’s role and contributions
For over 20 years, UNEP has played a pioneering role in linking women and the environment.

In the 1980s, on the occasion of the Third UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi that year, the Organization held a special session on women and the environment. During that period, the Senior Women Advisory Group (SWAG) was established. In preparation for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), UNEP co-organized the Global Assembly on Women and Environment in Miami in 1991.

Following UNCED in 1992, the Organisation started focusing more on internal functioning and played a less visible role in terms of external advocacy.  During that time, the 17th, 18th and 19th sessions of UNEP’s Governing Council (1993, 1995, 1997) issued decisions on UNEP’s organization and the role of women in environment and development. A policy statement by the Executive Director in 1996 set forth guiding principles for integrating gender into UNEP’s activities, and a year later gender sensitivity guidelines were included in UNEP’s Project Manual. These guidelines were recently updated and revised.


Although a gender focal point has been in place in UNEP for years, the formal appointment of the present gender focal point took place in 1999. That same year a report was presented to the 20th session of the Governing Council on the “Role of Women in Environment and Development.” (UNEP/GC.20/10)

On occasion of the 2003 Governing Council, governments and NGOs organized a workshop that resulted in a call to UNEP’s Executive Director to implement existing commitments in the area of gender and environment. The 2004-2005 UNEP Programme of Work included a commitment to make gender a cross-cutting priority in all its programmes, with an emphasis on the empowerment of women in environmental decision-making; active participation of women; technical assistance to women’s networks; a focus on women in reports on environmental links to ill health; development of education and training materials; organization of workshops; and gender balance in meetings.


At the special session of the Governing Council in 2004 in Jeju, Korea, the Network of Women Ministers of Environment and the Civil Society Forum organized sessions on women, water and sanitation. The publication in UNEP’s Policy Series of ‘Women and the Environment’ in 2004, triggered a lot of interest in the interlinkages between gender and environment. A special issue on women and environmental health of Our Planet was published that same year. After a consultative seminar, UNEP - in close cooperation with civil society groups and the Network of Women Ministers on Environment- organized the WAVE Assembly - Women as the Voice for the Environment, in Nairobi in October 2004. The conference, that brought together 150 women and men from 65 countries, resulted in a manifesto, recommendations on areas of concern and a series of project ideas to develop UNEP’s competence in specific areas.


Also in 2004 UNEP commissioned a study to enable gender mainstreaming into its early warning and assessment work. The study, Mainstreaming Gender in Environmental Assessment and Early Warning (2005), provides a clear analysis and recommendations to ensure a gender perspective in UNEP’s early warning and assessment work, including in the Global Environment Outlook. That year the GEO Yearbook included a special feature on gender and environment. 


Building on the existing UNEP CG decisions, and inspired by the outcomes of the WAVE Assembly and related global developments, UNEP’s Governing Council at its 23rd session in 2005, adopted Decision 23/11 on Gender Equality in the Field of Environment. This decision called upon Governments and UNEP itself to mainstream gender in their environmental policies and programmes, to assess the effects on women of environmental policies, and to integrate further gender equality and environmental considerations into their work. The decision also requested specific actions in the areas of: gender, conflict and environment; documenting women’s knowledge and leadership in environment through case studies; strengthening young women’s leadership in environment; and cooperation between UNEP and the CEDAW Committee to look into the possible use of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women Against Women (CEDAW) to enhance women’s environmental rights.

In order to implement the GC decision 23/11, an UNEP-wide gender action plan was prepared, and a Survey was developed in 2006 to investigate the status and methods of gender mainstreaming in governmental environmental policies, programs and institutions. After a worldwide consultation beginning 2006, four project proposals were developed (gender-conflict-environment; case studies women-environment – A Legacy of Knowledge; a mentorship programme to enhance young women’s leadership in environment; CEDAW and women’s environmental rights). At UNEP’s website a section on women and environment has been included; and at International Women’s Day 2006 the online database ‘Who’s who: Women in Environment’ that gives visibility to women leaders in environment, was launched.