The Beijing Declaration that evolved from the Fourth World Conference on Women argues that economic development, social development and environmental protection are the symbiotic components of sustainable development and the foundation for achieving a higher quality of life for all people, particularly women. Poor environmental quality and high resource costs, due to diminishing supply of non-renewable energy sources, are likely to impact women far more than men. For instance, women are usually tasked with responsibilities surrounding cooking and ensuring adequate water availability for their households. Contaminated water and rising electricity costs contribute both to the time and effort required for women to collect water for their families, as well as increasing the need for women to cook over wood fires. Cooking in this way has been documented to negatively impact on women’s health due to smoke inhalation.
While women are likely to suffer the most from poor environments, the Declaration also contends that, unless the contribution of women to the environment and resource management is recognised and supported, sustainable development would remain elusive. Many African women’s livelihoods rely on the health and productivity of the land available to them, and their actions as agents of the land play a critical role in maintaining its health and productivity. In keeping with the ideal of gender equality, it is vital to acknowledge the actions undertaken by women to ensure environmentally sustainable practises.
In line with the conclusions of the Beijing Declaration, the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment promoted participation of women in environmental conservation practices and management through reforestation campaigns, training on environmental issues, crop diversification projects, aiding the securing of land rights for women from rural communities, the establishment of nurseries growing indigenous plants and trees, funding and supporting the creation of seed banks, facilitating knowledge sharing and exchange of environmental and conservation best practices, and facilitating the establishment of women’s environmental associations and soil conservation strategies.
Key lessons learned from projects:
- Motivate women to take ownership of conserving the environment in their communities
- Intensify reforestation initiatives as a key component of sustainable environmental conservation
- Promote the importance of crop diversification to protect natural resources
Motivate women to take ownership of conserving the environment in their communities
Motivating women to see the benefit of sustainable environmental conservation and to take ownership of such initiatives was a key factor to ensure the successful conclusion of all environmental conservation projects. For example, the project run by OWACO in Malawi found it to be advantageous to use a holistic community-rights based approach to teach the participants about sustainable livelihoods and to present the material in a manner that held the women’s interest and conviction in the success of the project.
Intensify reforestation initiatives
Women in Africa have traditionally been involved in a wide range of forest-related activities, both innately and those engendered by development projects and programmes. Tangible efforts are therefore needed to actively sensitise women to the importance of forestation initiatives to conserve the environment and their role in forests preservation and intensifying reforestation drives. They should consequently be trained in how they take up a leading role in the management and use of forest resources.
Reforestation was an important component of the Food Processing Centre (CTPA) project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 200 women were apprised of the benefits and importance of reforestation in terms of soil conservation, increasing moisture retention after rain, and the role of trees in absorbing greenhouse gases. The SPEDP project in Sudan, likewise, impressed upon the women the importance of reforestation for the conservation of the environment.
Promote the importance of crop diversification to protect natural resources
The importance of crop diversification to protect natural resources emerged from a number of the projects that addressed the role of women in conserving the environment. For example, the importance of crop diversification was instilled in 600 female farmers from South Sudan who participated in environmental conservation training programmes initiated by the SPEDP (Sudan Peace and Education Development Program). The OWACO project in Malawi, where 1500 women attended a crop diversification campaign, showed the value of such initiatives and provides a clear indication that future projects should embark on crop diversification campaigns to ensure soil conservation.