A unique

 Laura Liswood
describes how the Network of Women Ministers of the Environment is bringing new approaches to meeting global environmental challenges.

Recognizing a critical moment for the environment – and that women bring a unique voice to the challenges and opportunities before the world – 22 women ministers of the environment and 28 women leaders of intergovernmental and non-governmental environmental organizations gathered in Helsinki, Finland in March 2002. This historic meeting, convened by the International Assembly of Women Ministers and attended by women from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, provided the first opportunity ever for women environmental leaders to come together as a group to address crucial issues for the future.

The women left this meeting with two results:

  • the creation of a statement of Joint Conclusions on the Environment to inform the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development
  • a unanimous agreement to create a Network of Women Ministers of the Environment, the first and only organization of its kind.

The Network was created because of the urgency sensed by ministers to reverse dangerous trends in the world’s development and to address a critical need for visionary and concrete policies toward sustainable development in their own countries and worldwide. The ministers wanted to ensure that gender issues are raised in dealing with environmental issues globally. Indeed, the ministers believe that women – who comprise more than half the world’s population – must maintain equitable participation in order to meet the complex environmental challenges of our time.

The elimination of global poverty and the promotion of sustainable development are essential to a fair and equitable world. The current patterns of consumption and production are among the major causes of the degradation of the Earth’s resources. If the present trends in poverty growth, population expansion and production and consumption patterns continue, the negative impacts on natural resources, environment and health will only grow worse. And women, who represent a majority of the world’s poor, will continue to suffer disproportionately.

The Network of Women Ministers of the Environment

Women have primary responsibility for raising children, and for securing sufficient resources to meet their families’ nutrition and health needs. Given the variety of women's daily interactions with the environment, they are the most keenly affected by its degradation. Because women constitute a majority of the world’s poor and are severely under-represented in policy-making roles, the Network focuses on increasing the involvement of women in sustainable development issues. The Network believes that women bring to the table new ideas, approaches and strategies for protecting people and natural resources while practising truly sustainable development.

Women bring a unique voice to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development. Their experience, their participation and their leadership are crucial to the success of world environmental efforts.

The Network of Women Ministers of the Environment

Among its activities, the Network of Women Ministers of the Environment:

  • develops recommendations for practical solutions to environmental problems confronting nations and the world
  • builds Network partnerships with appropriate civil society, non-governmental and intergovernmental agencies
  • exchanges best practices and experience in order to implement more effective policies
  • creates a critical mass of leadership to influence international and national policy.

For 2004-2005, Network members have identified demography and sanitation, fresh water, energy and sustainable security as priority issues. In addition, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 1994 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, the Network will explore gender and environmental perspectives of the Beijing goals.

Network ministers agree that meeting the environmental challenges facing the world requires the full participation and partnership of all – women and men. It requires equitable access to information, transparency in decision-making processes, and stakeholder analysis in order to prevent negative gender-specific impacts.

The Network of Women Ministers of the Environment is currently co-chaired by Rejoice Mabudafhasi, South African Deputy Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and Lena Sommestad, Swedish Minister for the Environment.

The Network is part of a new architecture of organizations founded to advance democracy, excellence in governance and gender equality throughout the world. The Network operates under the auspices of the Council of Women World Leaders and the International Assembly of Women Ministers. The Council of Women World Leaders, founded in 1996 by HE Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland, and Laura A. Liswood, is an organization of current and former women prime ministers and presidents. It is chaired by HE Mary T. Robinson, former President of Ireland.

The International Assembly of Women Ministers, created by the Council in 2002, consists of the sitting women ministers of all portfolios who today number approximately 600 women. The Hon. Madeleine K. Albright is the founding chair of the Assembly. The Council and Assembly have created three networks in addition to the Women Ministers of the Environment – the Network of Women Ministers of Finance, Economics and Development, the Network of Ministers of Women’s Affairs, and the Network of Women Ministers of Health. The Council, Assembly and networks share an international secretariat, located in Washington, DC

Laura A. Liswood is Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders and International Assembly of Women Ministers.

PHOTOGRAPH: UNEP/Topham/Liem Bok Lan

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Miles to go before we relax | Practical consensus | Power shift | Equally effective | People | Peace of mind, piece of land | The young ones | Fuelling change | At a glance: Women, health and the environment | Aishwarya Rai | Unprecedented opportunity | Books and products | Chemical inheritance | Toxic trespass | First empower | Citizen engagement | Adding feminine perspective | After all ‘nature’ is female... | A unique voice

Complementary issues:
Culture, values and the environment 1996
Poverty, Health and the Environment 2001
World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002
Water, Sanitation, People 2004

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and natural resources