feminine perspective

 Beverly Miller
describes UNEP’s work to integrate gender issues into environment and development programmes.

In Jamaica, the umbilical cord is planted together with a seedling as soon as it falls off the newborn child. This has a far-reaching psychological impact. My tree (a coconut) was made known to me as a child and I always felt that I would grow as tall and as impressive as the coconut trees around. The experience made me aware that environmental values should be taught as part of one’s culture.

My roots in the hills of central Clarendon, Jamaica gave me both a sense of security and confidence and a love of natural beauty as I grew up, and played a significant role in shaping my career path, stimulating me to obtain a Masters of Engineering Degree in Environmental Engineering. I decided to become part of the environment movement, first working for the Government of Jamaica (assisting with establishing NEPA, the department responsible for the environment) and then joining the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

As a woman and mother, my thought process and decisions are influenced by my gender and life experiences. This featured in my drafting of government water and air pollution control standards, i.e. in considering the nature and type of clothing required for a female to climb a 60-metre smoke stack, the weight of the sampling equipment, the time required for results to be known and, most importantly, the negative impacts of air and water pollution on human health.

UNEP has appointed a gender focal point at the policy level with the responsibility of spearheading the UN gender mainstreaming policies. It also monitors the implementation of UNEP Governing Council decisions on the role of women in environment and development, to ensure the equal and beneficial integration of women in all environment management activities. In 2000, a gender mainstreaming strategy was developed to create a structure to implement the policies and activities of the UN gender mainstreaming policies. It was developed with a view to improving the institutional governance, programme and managerial processes of UNEP.
My experience made me aware that environmental values should be taught as part of one’s culture
UNEP pursues a process to ensure the incorporation of the gender perspective in formulating programme plans and budgets. All UNEP projects adhere to the UNEP Manual on Project Formulation, Approval, Monitoring and Evaluation, which contains a chapter on gender sensitivity guidelines. The guidelines place emphasis on gender considerations in project documents and identify the steps for including gender in UNEP’s relationship with collaborating and supporting organizations. They are supplemented by practical recommendations on gender planning to facilitate the participation of women and other major groups.

The project manual also emphasizes that gender planning recognizes that women and men play different roles in society, and often have different needs. Therefore, an understanding of gender roles, responses and needs must be part of initial planning activities.

Mainstreaming gender
UNEP also endeavours to ensure gender balance during meetings and workshops and strives to mainstream gender issues in all programmatic activities. A global database of gender and environment focal points – not just of governments, but of relevant global non-governmental organizations and relevant civil society entities – serves as an information exchange and data collection tool and provides the information required for capacity building at the national, regional and global levels.

UNEP’s 2004-2005 Programme of Work reflects gender as a cross-cutting priority in all its activities. It specifies:

  • integrating gender mainstreaming policies, and promoting active participation of women in environmental protection and sustainable development efforts within the Division of Policy Development and Law and the Division of Early Warning and Assessment

  • providing technical assistance to women’s networks for developing and implementing projects to carry through the outcomes of the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit

  • focusing on women in regard to reports addressing the causes of ill health, including environmental causes, and their impact on development

  • developing education and training materials based on best practices and success stories for women stakeholders.

At the eighth special session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, last March, UNEP and the Network of Women Ministers of the Environment organized a special event on women and water to support national and multilateral strategies for improving the situation and role of women in water and sanitation management. It provided useful experience in preparing for a follow-up to the 1995 Beijing UN Fourth World Conference on Women at next year’s Governing Council.
The gender perspective must be both explicit and more visible in the achievement of sustainable development
The gender perspective must be both explicit and more visible in the achievement of sustainable development. Understanding, as we must, that environment is one of the pillars of sustainable development, we must renew our efforts to include the voice of women in the international environment governance debate that is needed now more than at any other time in history.

Enhancing participation
UNEP recognizes the need to intensify gender-focused capacity building in environment and development. Increased focus on implementation, targets and impacts in the field of gender and environment is necessary for the advancement of women in development. Dialogue between UNEP, governments and civil society organizations must continue to offer new avenues to enhance their participation in decision making. Integrating rural women’s traditional knowledge and practices of sustainable resource use in developing environmental management programmes is crucial.

All the Millennium Development Goals are linked to women and their situation, and gender perspective should be mainstreamed into planning and all other development processes – nationally, regionally and globally. During the Women’s Consultative Seminar held in February 2004 at UNEP headquarters, a working group addressed the goals from a gender perspective and recommended ‘that a review of the implementation of gender and environment commitments made in the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and in relation to the Millennium Development Goals should be carried out, including best and worst practices’.

How can I end without a parting plea – that we put our money where our mouth is in including the feminine perspective in the development agenda at all levels

Beverly Miller is Secretary of the Governing Council of UNEP.

PHOTOGRAPH: Topfoto/Imageworks

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