Women’s Session on Gender Equality, Climate Change, Environmental Governance and Sustainability
27 March 2019
Co-hosted by the Commission for Gender Equality and the Action 24 project
Gender inequality is one of the most pervasive threats to sustainable development. It has negative impacts on access to, use of, and control over a wide range of resources, and on the ability to achieve both men and women’s rights to a clean, safe, healthy, and sustainable environment.
Gender equality, environmental governance, climate change, and sustainability have direct links to our social, economic, and political environment. These issues should in fact be mainstreamed throughout in order to uphold Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, ensuring the right to a safe and healthy environment – and in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, Goals 1, 3, 5, and 13.
Changes in the environment affect women and men in different ways. It’s a problem exacerbated by women having less access to economic resources, education, and decision-making spaces. We must close this gender gap for any our environmental and sustainable development policies to be efficient.
This led Action 24 – Active Citizens for Responsive Legislatures, to collaborate with the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) to identify and build the capacity of a cohort of women who will be influential in contributing to gender equality in South Africa, and promoting gender and youth-focused public participation in environmental governance, climate change, and sustainability. CGE can champion enhanced women representation in public participation, across various legislative institutions – in particular the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
In March 2019, Action 24 and CGE organised a workshop ‘Women Focus Group on Gender Equality, Environmental Governance, and Sustainability’ that focused on a wide variety of areas, including health, water, sanitation, energy, food security, mining, consumption, and production. For example, women and children are most often responsible for household chores and food security efforts. According to the UNEP 2016 Global Gender and Environment Outlook Report, women in sub-Saharan countries spend collectively 20 million hours a day collecting water, compared to 6 million hours for men.
Understanding the wider causes, impacts, and opportunities around such differences will make it easier to find solutions. The workshop also highlighted that while many women are negatively affected by this inequality, many others are active catalysts for change – as we experienced first-hand with the groups invited to the workshop from the Vaal, Sasolburg, Ekurhuleni, Westrand, Tshwane, and City of Johannesburg.
The workshop highlighted the complex connections between the environment, gender, and human rights, and how women’s role in social, economic, and environmental development reaches far beyond issues of gender and inequality.
Women’s empowerment is essential to build resilience and adapt to climate change, hence part of the workshop was to empower the women in attendance to actively participate in climate change programmes and environmental governance. Gender-responsive climate change policies need to be cognisant of (and sensitive to) the nuances of local and intra-household dynamics, so as to mitigate and transform these patterns. They also need to be farsighted enough to support building resilience and prevent gendered impacts from occurring.
A key theme throughout the workshop was that in order for women farmers to be more productive, they require equal access to environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural inputs, markets, and (in the view of the rapidly changing climate) climate-resilient farming techniques and climate information. The groups from the Vaal, Ekurhuleni, and Westrand were particularly vocal about these needs. Gender equality is essential for a climate resilience agricultural sector, and thereby to ensure food and nutrition security for all.
Policies remain relatively weak in terms of identifying clear strategies to tackle the intersections between gender and climate. Public involvement has, so far, not succeeded in pushing this agenda further. The CGE is well placed to champion it, informed by a consistent engagement with women and youth focus groups through data collection efforts, capacity building workshops, and enhancing opportunities for their participation in legislative processes.
This workshop, like a series of other Action 24 events held with civil society organisations since 2018, contributes to Increasing the number of diverse constituencies taking part in public engagements. This is a prerequisite for meaningful, inclusive citizens’ participation in influencing legislative decisions and monitoring service delivery on matters pertaining to sustainability and climate resilience, thus encouraging a more responsive legislative sector to the citizens’ needs and aspirations.
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