As communities nationwide celebrate Earth Day today, women environmental leaders are calling for more women decision-makers in environmental policy worldwide. According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor to the World Conservation Union, a coalition of environmental organizations, “More often than not, women are not associated with discussions on the environment.” The absence of women’s voices, however, raises grave concerns for women, especially in developing nations where women’s livelihoods are so closely connected to natural resources. According to Justine Sass, author of Women, Men, and Environmental Change: The Gender Dimensions of Environmental Policies and Programs, when accessibility of resources is limited, women’s “are often most keenly affected” because of the relationship between environmental resources and women’s labor. Sass uses deforestation as an example. “For women, deforestation makes it more difficult to collect wild herbs, fruits and natural medicines, or fuel wood for cooking and boiling water.” Sass adds, “When women must travel further distances and take more time to collect fuel wood and water, girls are often taken out of school to assist.”
Often women in the developing world have limited access to leadership roles in the environmental arena because of their lack of political power. 1998 Nobel laureate Amartya Sen rationalizes that one of the best ways to create sustainability may be through “advancing gender equality, through reversing the various social and economic handicaps that make women voiceless and powerless.” One of the most egregious social handicaps for women in this regard is the lack of reproductive rights. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has found that empowering women and enabling them to control their fertility and reproduction are key to ensuring better environmental conditions and a decrease in global poverty. UNFPA advises that increasing women’s opportunities and providing for women’s equality and reproductive health are “critically important, both the improve the well-being of growing human populations and to protect the natural world.”
LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.