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Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow

MUSASA— Put women and girls at the centre of planning and action

By Monipher Musasa:

International Women’s Day recognises the contribution of women and girls who are leading the charge on many fronts, including climate change adaptation, mitigation and response to build a more sustainable future for all.

The Covid pandemic has revealed and, in many cases exacerbated, longstanding gendered inequalities at work and at home. Around the world, women have been disproportionately exposed to coronavirus at work, as frontline workers in ‘essential’ industries and occupations.

Women also experienced greater job losses as workers in industries most affected by business closures and government-mandated lockdowns. With schools and early childhood education centres closed for weeks or months, women also shouldered a larger burden of unpaid domestic duties at home and experienced greater risk of domestic violence.

The pandemic has not only highlighted the links between humanity and nature, but has also reminded us, once again, of how gender inequality deepens during crises. As we enter the next phase of pandemic life, we must continue to highlight its effects on limiting women’s access to benefits and services across numerous environmental contexts, as well as on equitable, effective natural resource governance.

While some stories have recognised women’s leadership as effective in navigating the pandemic, women at all levels of environment sectors, from scientists to informal agricultural labourers, still experience gendered impacts that will leave lasting impressions. Without effective and innovative solutions, these threaten to restrict women’s involvement in economic and environmental decision-making at multiple levels; a major risk to resilience-building as the gender-differentiated impacts of the climate crisis coincide.

The issues of climate change and sustainability have had, and will continue to have, severe and lasting impacts on our environment, economic and social development. Women are increasingly being recognised as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources which climate change threatens the most.

The socio-economic stresses of the Covid pandemic and restrictions on movement have significantly increased gender-based violence risks, particularly domestic violence. At the same time, and as evidenced above, women and girls are effective and powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. They are involved in sustainability initiatives around the world and their participation and leadership results in more effective climate action. Continuing to examine the opportunities, as well as the constraints, to empower women and girls to have a voice and be equal players in decision-making related to climate change and sustainability is essential for sustainable development and greater gender equality. Without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future, remains beyond our reach.

The time is now for women tell their stories. It is time for women to highlight that women and men have different experiences, roles and knowledge relating to how we use, manage and conserve our natural resources. Decades of field experience have shown that valuing and supporting these differentiated contributions improves strategies to turn the tide on environmental degradation. IFAW’s work supported by USaid, in Kasungu Natural Park focusing on women has shown us that women are effective in devising and implementing solutions to increase sustainable livelihoods while reducing conflicts and, when more women are involved in group decisions about land management, the group conserves more. Advancing gender equality there is an urgent need now.

Today we have the opportunity to put women and girls at the centre of our planning and action and to integrate gender perspectives into global and national laws and policies. We have the opportunity to re-think, re-frame and re-allocate resources. We have the opportunity to benefit from the leadership of women and girls environmental defenders and climate activists to guide our planet’s conservation. We need Indigenous women’s inter-generational knowledge, practices and skills. We have a blueprint to follow. It involves women’s full and equal participation and leadership in decision-making; their access to green jobs and the blue economy; and their equal access to finance and resources. Let us work together to break the bias today.

*Monipher Musasa is the International Policy Advisor—Africa at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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