Joining Forces to Integrate Gender and Development

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CDB Staff Writer, Guo Ting, reports on Chinese women and environmental organizations joining international development NGOs on the eve of the Rio+20 meeting in calling for greater emphasis on gender considerations in future sustainable development discussions.

In 1992, the Earth Summit took place in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where Agenda 21 was released to make a stronger stand on sustainable development and environment. Twenty years later, in June 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held again in Rio De Janeiro. The conference is also named Rio +20. According to news reports, the Summit will focus on sustainable development and lifting people out of poverty as the framework within which to build a green economy and establish relevant mechanisms.

It is predictable that developed countries and developing countries will form two camps and become engaged in intense maneuvering against one another. When it comes to specific fields and topics of discussions between powerful governments and companies, in the face of mainstream economic and environmental protection forces, some women’s organizations are planning to actively participate in the Summit. Adopting a stance based on gender equality, they will propose fighting for more rights for women within the new sustainable development framework.

Gender Equality is a Necessary and Effective Pathway to Sustainable Development.

On April 9-10, 2012, Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN), and the newly established environmental protection organization Greenovation Hub (创绿中心) brought together a number of environmental and women’s organizations from China  to host a training seminar in Beijing named “environmental justice and sustainable development from a gendered perspective”. The point was to introduce the standpoint that DAWN would take at Rio as well as to share the experiences of Chinese organizations working in the fields of gender equality and development.

DAWN is a network of feminist organizations from the economic South. They believe that the strategies for sustainable development in Agenda 21 have failed. Given that environmental protection and social development must yield to economic development, the reality is that this developmental model has deepened inequality both between and within countries and we now face a multitude of new crises. We should explore other development models that are just and sustainable. From the perspective of gender equality, DAWN believes that while both developed and developing countries should have equal presence at the Rio+20, the major government and corporate players are men. It is thus very likely that women’s rights and interests will be neglected, or even sacrificed.  Women’s organizations, therefore, must be proactive in getting their voices heard.

In order to explore practical paths to gender equality and sustainable development,  DAWN implemented a project called Gender, Economic and Ecological Justice (GEEJ) in three regions – the Pacific, Africa and Latin America – from 2010 to 2012. The project combines three themes: gender, economic justice and environmental protection, to host a series of policy analysis, training on regional agreements, and advocacy. This project brings together researchers and actors working in the areas of gender equality, economic development and climate change. The participants introduce their current national and regional policies, systems and projects, comment on their local environmental policies, and discuss possible steps for action, limiting factors and so on. It is worth mentioning that this training and advocacy places particular emphasis on encouraging the participation of young female practitioners within the women’s rights movement. DAWN hopes to push more feminists and advocates of women’s rights to step beyond the limited circle of feminists and pay more attention to the global economy and climate change. In this way, they hope to join advocacy for both women’s rights and sustainable development.

In order to promote the GEEJ Project within the development sector in China, after the Beijing workshop, DAWN and Greenovation Hub, created a GEEJ-China group email with members of the other twenty or so organizations present. They also shared new ideas, views and documents on the relationship between gender equality and development. One document from the EU Sustainable Energy Summit discussed the relationship between Sustainable Energy for All and gender equality.

On November 1, 2011, the UN initiated the Sustainable Energy for All proposal. The initiative aims to promote energy equity and help protect and maintain the ecosystem within which humans live. In February 2012, at the opening ceremony of the international year of Sustainable Energy for All in Nairobi, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNEP Achim Steiner proposed that the promotion and expansion of sustainable energy for all is the key to the transition to a green economy. When the EU Sustainable Energy Summit was held in Brussels on April 16, 2012, a session on gender was held in the afternoon, pointing out why gender equality is an effective path to Sustainable Energy for All.

First, sustainable energy involves a broad range of benefits for women. For example, reducing women’s involvement in daily chores frees up time to seek opportunities for education and work. Other measures that create a positive impact on the health of women and children include reducing harmful gas inhaled during cooking, and improving health services at local clinics. Thus, Sustainable Energy for All should incorporate “Sustainable Energy for Women”. Secondly, women’s rights are easily infringed upon and ignored. They  should be the main group to draw  attention in the Sustainable Energy for All agenda. The agenda should also clearly point out services for women’s rights to energy. Additionally, if women are to obtain modern energy services, we must find out the root causes of the shortage of energy for women and the systemic, structural obstacles involved. We should look at issues in terms of the shortage of productive resources, capacities, technology, and funds for women, gender bias and so on.   Only then can we design a complete monitoring system that can offer effective tools and starting points for Sustainable Energy for All.

The Practices and Perspectives of Chinese Development Organizations

We can see from the exchanges during the April 9-10 Beijing workshop, that Chinese development organization already reflect localized practices regarding gender equality and sustainable development.

Recently, in many rural areas, scientific poverty reduction projects have already begun to adopt a gendered perspective. The Lanzhou University Center for Western Environmental and Social Development (兰州大学西部环境与社会发展中心) has taken the typical route of “scientific progress, raising women’s socioeconomic status and promoting gender equality”.  The center has completed some technological innovations such as solar cookers, biogas stoves and biogas tanks. Using these products can reduce carbon emissions, benefit women’s health, and save their time.  Many men, because their own labor has become less repetitive and trivial, are also participating in housework.  Some  women from poor local areas even treat the possession of a biogas tank by a male’s family as a standard by which to select a partner for marriage.

Some organizations believe that women should be an important force to be mobilized for environmental protection and development. The Shaanxi Province Science and Technology Service Center for Rural Women (陕西农林科技服务中心), a non-profit organization in Shaanxi, emphasizes the important role of women in environmental protection in rural areas.  Through their research, they discovered that with changes in labor, there is a trend towards women becoming the main labor force in farming. While the reality is that the environment in rural communities is getting worse, rural women are often both the victims of environmental degradation and the creators of pollution.  As such, paying attention to and training rural women is critical. The organization pays great attention to the needs of rural women, offering technical training to  representatives nominated by rural women, and then offering trainees training on a one-to-one basis, or with their companions. At the same time, they pay attention to gathering information on the needs of women to inform the design of better projects. A representative of Greenpeace pointed out that women are the most effective resource to be mobilized in opposing the overuse of pesticides in agriculture. The frequent droughts in Yunnan in recent years are caused by climate change. These droughts cause an increase in plant diseases and pest damage, which leads to the excessive use of pesticides. Pregnant women and those who are breast feeding are at the highest risk of being harmed by this “pesticide cocktail“. Therefore, those who should be mobilized first are mothers and women who want to have children.

In fact, the majority of projects that combine gender equality and development require that the two complement one another. However, if there a conflict between the two, how is that resolved?

Cai Yiping, the representative of DAWN, thinks that the needs of the women are the most important thing. She said, in practice, only by taking a gendered  perspective can we discover women’s needs. She gave an example: in disaster reconstruction, suppose you had money to spend, would you use it to repair the roads or to build toilets? On the whole, men would want the roads to be repaired, because of the economic gain benefitting both men and women. Women however, will often ask for toilets to be built because they have their unique needs. So whose needs do we listen to? She continued: in our current economic system, we ignore many of the reproductive roles shouldered by women. So often, women’s contributions are only in the home, and they do not make a socioeconomic contribution. Should we then ignore women’s needs? Should we treat economic development as the sole standard for project implementation, seeing it as more important than anything else? These are questions that should be reflected upon by each person who works in sustainable development.


兰州大学西部环境与社会发展中心: Lanzhou University Center for Western Environment and Social Development

创绿中心: Greenovation Hub

陕西农林科技服务中心: Shaanxi Province Science and Technology Service Center for Rural Women

In Brief

Guo Ting, reports on Chinese women and environmental organizations joining international development NGOs on the eve of the Rio+20 meeting in calling for greater emphasis on gender considerations in future sustainable development discussions
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