Gender, The Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific

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27 Sep 2017
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This publication is the first Asia-Pacific report that comprehensively maps out the intersections between gender and environment at the levels of household, work, community and policy. It examines gender concerns in the spheres of food security, agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry, and identifies strategic entry points for policy interventions. Based on a grounded study of the reality in the Asia-Pacific region, this report puts together good practices and policy lessons that could be capitalized by policymakers to advance the agenda of sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.

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  • Foreword

    The 2030 agenda for sustainable development is a visionary covenant for human progress. This aspirational agenda is built on the idea of “leaving no one behind” in the journey towards inclusive and sustainable development. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls are decisive factors in transforming this vision into a reality, particularly in Asia and the Pacific where only 5 of 53 ESCAP member States have achieved a low level of gender equality according to the Gender Inequality Index

  • Acknowledgements

    Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific was prepared by the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) under the overall leadership and guidance of Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary-General of United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development also provided valuable guidance. Nagesh Kumar, Director, Social Development Division (SDD), provided substantive direction with a core team led by Cai Cai, Chief, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Section, SDD, and comprising Diana Rodriguez and Maria Ann Mathew. Technical inputs were provided by Aida Karazhanova, Caridad Canales, Katinka Weinberger, Natalja Wehmer and Nobue Amanuma of the Environment and Development Division, Soma Dutta of ENERGIA and Susan Novak, independent expert. Additional inputs were provided by Noor Ali, SDD intern.

  • Executive summary

    The lives of a significant portion of the population in the Asia-Pacific region are inextricably tied to the use of environment for daily support and livelihood, especially women’s lives. For instance, more than 80 per cent of rural households in the region use biomass for fuel, compared with only 25 cent of urban households, which affects a preponderance of women more than men. Around 58 per cent of the economically active women in the region are in the agriculture sector. Women constitute 54 per cent of the labour force in small-scale inland fisheries in the region. If the agenda of sustainable development is to advance in this region, countries need to understand—and then respond to— the gender-based realities (including inequalities and disparities) in the sphere of managing the environment and natural resources.

  • Abbreviations and acronyms
  • Introduction

    Gender inequality is a cross-cutting issue that impacts the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Existing structural inequalities and social norms create different conditions for women and men. Juxtapose this with the fact that we live in the Anthropocene era, wherein human activities contribute towards ecological changes (Steffen, and others, 2004). Therefore, “environment” goes beyond its physical form to encompass social dynamics, such as gender-based dynamics, within which human lives are implicated. The social dynamics, on the other hand, affect how environmental resources are used, accessed and made part of human existence.

  • Dimensions of gender inequality in Asia and the Pacific

    Gender norms and social structures, which shape a particular understanding of women’s place in society—at home, work and in the community—obstruct equality of opportunity between men and women. This chapter draws out dimensions of gender inequality in the Asia-Pacific region to set the scene for the subsequent chapters.

  • Gender inequality, food security and sustainable agriculture

    Women have a pivotal role in all dimensions of food security. These dimensions—the availability, accessibility and utilization of food—intersect and interact with the responsibilities, opportunities and constraints that women face in their households, at work, within their communities and in their influence on decisionmaking. Women, especially poor women, are burdened with responsibilities that stem from their biological and reproductive capacities, such as expectations they will take care of and provide nourishment to household members and contribute to household income.

  • Gender inequality and sustainable energy

    Men and women differ in their use of energy resources as well as in their level and mechanism of access. Ensuring equitable development outcomes of energy interventions necessitates factoring in these differences. Addressing gender issues in energy interventions extends the potential to contribute towards achieving the SDGs, including poverty alleviation (SDG 5), improved health and well-being (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), good livelihoods and economic opportunity (SDG 8), sustainable urban environments (SDG 11) and climate action (SDG 13).

  • Gender inequality and safe water

    Water is a resource that is fundamental to achieving sustainable development. As a human right, the right to safe drinking water and improved sanitation is pivotal for realizing other human rights, such as the rights to life and dignity and to adequate food and housing as well as the right to health and well-being (WWAP, 2016). Global and regional water-related frameworks, such as the 1977 United Nations Water Conference at Mar del Plata, the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1981—1990) and the 1992 International Conference on Water and Environment have recognized the importance of involving both women and men in the management of water and sanitation. The latter explicitly recognized the central role of women in the provision, management and safeguarding of water. It continued with Agenda 21, the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs and the International Decade for Action, with the theme “Water is Life” (2005–2015), which called for women’s participation and involvement in water-related development efforts.

  • Gender inequality and sustainable fisheries and forestry

    Developing countries around the world have decentralized the management of fisheries and forests to the community level (Leisher and others, 2016). It is imperative to go beyond the community to figure out the place of women in the management of these two resources. Both sectors have specific jobs that are typically undertaken by men and women. The work done by women largely remains outside the ambit of official accounting systems, thereby staying “invisible” for effective policy interventions. There is also the cross-cutting issue of recognizing women’s knowledge and capacities in the management of resources. While this chapter emphasizes women’s participation, it also focuses on the importance of understanding the type of participation that women have access to.

  • Conclusions

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development strives for more balanced development by addressing the economic, social and environmental dimensions holistically. The momentum set forth by this agenda provides an historic opportunity for reducing inequality and closing gender gaps. This report examines the intersections between gender and the environment at the household, work, community and policy levels, particularly in the spheres of food security and agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry, with a view to providing strategic entry points for policy interventions that will lead to inclusive and sustainable development.

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