Gender And Environment: Overview

Author: Harshika Kapoor, LLM, ILS PUNE


What is a Gender Responsive approach? The particular needs, priorities, power structures, status, and relationships between women and men are recognized and adequately addressed in the design, implementation, and evaluation of activities. The approach seeks to ensure that women and men are given equal opportunities to participate in and benefit from an intervention and promotes targeted measures to address inequalities and advance the empowerment of women.[1]

What is Gender Balance? The equal and active participation of women and men in all areas of decision-making and access to and control over resources and services.[2]

What is Gender Equality? The equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. This doesn’t mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities, and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female

Did we ever think about how many countries have women same legal rights as men and have access to the land?[3]

There are only 28 countries in the world that allow women to have the same legal rights as men to own and access land. Often, women have access to the land they rely on for food, income, and shelter only through their relationship to a male relative- a husband, father, or brother. This exposes them to risks of displacement and exploitation.

ENVIRONMENT MEETS GENDER: Women and men have different roles and responsibilities in managing natural resources. This differentiation varies from region to region, but in almost all cases women have unequal access to and control over natural resources, unequal distribution of benefits, and less decision-making power over their use. Environmental challenges have complex social and economic dimensions. The 2017 global environment facility policy on gender equality states that men and women use natural resources differently and as a result, they are affected differently by changes to these resources. Gender inequality and social exclusion increase the negative effects of environmental degradation on women and girls. UN environment observes that the only way to identify and implement the best policies for the environment and sustainable development is to close the gender gap.

GENDER INEQUALITY DOESN’T MAKE SENSE ON ANY LEVEL: Gender equality and women’s empowerment and matters of fundamental human rights, social justice, and pre-condition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.[4]

Gender and Environment Nexus? Understanding the relationship between gender and the environment is key to addressing the environmental challenges equitably.

There are some listed sub-headings:

  • Gender
  • Livelihoods
  • Social norms
  • Gender Roles
  • Environment changes and Gender Inequalities
  • Environmental Interventions are not gender-neutral

HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY CONSIDERED GENDER ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES? Gender equality and women’s leadership in international agreements are recognized as important for the realization of global environmental benefits and sustainable development for all. Gender equality is a human right. As a human right, gender equality is recognized in several international declarations and conventions.[5]

Decades of Women’s Environmental activism have led to a shift from silence on gender-related issues in international environmental agreements and commitments to gender equality being at the Centre of the Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals. Gender equality and women’s leadership in international agreements are recognized as important for the realization of global environmental benefits and sustainable development for all.

CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: Gender equality is a human right- As a human right, gender equality is recognized in several international declarations and conventions. The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women established in 1979 is the international bill of rights for women. CEDAW binds 187 countries’ governments to protect and promote the rights of women.

CEDAW promotes women’s rights to credit, family planning, and education, access to resources, the right to work, and participation in decision-making. It mandates countries to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas to ensure, on basis of equality of men and women that they are participating in and benefit from rural development.

Towards gender equality in International frameworks and commitments:

  • 1979: Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women entered into force in 1981
  • 1992: International conference on water and the Environment and the Dublin principles[6]
  • 1994: United Nations Framework Convention on climate change entered into force
  • 1996: United Nations Convention to combat desertification entered into force
  • 2000: Millennium Development Goals
  • 2003; Cartagena Protocol to the CBD entered into force
  • 2011: UNCCD advocacy policy framework
  • 2014: Nagoya protocol to the CBD as well as Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants entered into force
  • 2014: Lima work programmed on gender
  • 2015-2020: CBD Gender Plan of Action[7]


  • The earth summit, UNCED, 1992 and the RIO DECLARATION: The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, known as the earth summit, set the stage for major policy milestones linking gender and environment[8]
  • Agenda 21: While not legally Agenda 21, the main outcome document of the earth summit was for decades considered the blueprint for sustainable development. Agenda 21 built upon previous plans and platforms that promoted women’s empowerment and gender equality concerning crucial issues such as land ownership, resource stewardship, education, and employment.[9]
  • Sustainable Development Goals: Building on the lessons learned while implementing the agreement made at the earth summit, as well as the millennium development goals, the 2030 sustainable development agenda with its 17 SDG’s recognizes that the natural world and its life-giving services must be urgently protected to fulfill the needs of nine billion people by 2050.


  • Convention on Biological Diversity: 2015-2020 Gender Plan of Action: which includes a set of possible actions for parties as well as a framework of actions for the secretariat to integrate gender issues in work under the convention
  • United Nations Convention to combat desertification: is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The UNCCD 2018-2030 strategic framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve land degradation neutrality to restore the productivity of vast swathes of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people and reduce the impacts of droughts on vulnerable populations. A commentary gender action plan was been adopted in the year 2017.
  • Basel Gender Action Plan: developed in 2013 and updated in 2016, serves as the guiding framework to ensure gender is an integral part of implantation. One BRS- GAP objective calls for setting up gender indicators and baselines data to measure progress on women’s participation in key spheres and on the implantation of gender-responsive matters
  • Minamata convention: is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the negative effects of mercury.


  • The global environment facility: It provides grants to developing countries for projects and programmers that address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable developmental initiatives[10]
  • The green climate fund is a new global fund created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change. It was set up by the 194 countries who are parties to the UNFCCC in 2010. As part of the convention financial mechanism, GCF helps developing countries limit to reduce their greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change.[11]

GEF and Gender Mainstreaming: GEF has a history of mainstreaming gender in its projects. The first gender policy is dated in 2012 when only 18 per cent of projects were considering gender in their design. Today, most GEF projects are designed with a good understanding of gender differences. GEF’s new Policy on Gender Equality was adopted in 2017.[12]

WHY A GENDER RESPONSIVE APPROACH MATTERS: The benefits of a gender-responsive approach:

  • Provides a better understanding of women’s and men’s relationship with the environment
  • Identifies the different ways in which each gender accesses, uses, and controls natural resources and services
  • Supports equal opportunities to benefit from environmental policy and projects for women and men.[13]
  • Recognizes the different knowledge and skills of both men and women and how they can lead to improved livelihoods
  • Addresses issues of governance and rights for more effective and efficient environmental policy and programming[14]
  • Creates opportunities to maximize women and men contribution to environmental sustainability[15]


  1. Gender-responsive stakeholder consultations
  2. Gender analysis
  3. Gender-responsive actions
  4. Gender monitoring and evaluation

Gender small grants programmers: The small grants programmers have developed a global gender mainstreaming policy and one of the key features of the approach is to consider gender as one of the main criteria in grants approval. As a researcher women must be part of the solution:

  • Farmers, fishers, household providers, entrepreneurs, women are not only victims but also powerful actors of change.
  • Women’s agency is crucial for the sustainable management of natural resources
  • Gender equality cannot be measured by women’s and men’s presence alone. Effective participation is both are key.[16]
  • Promoting gender equality and women empowerment is crucial for environmental policies, programmers, and projects and leads to more equitable, effective, and sustainable outcomes.[17]


The gender- and environment Nexus:

  • Biodiversity: To effectively conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, it is important to recognize the different roles, knowledge, and responsibilities of both men and women in natural resource management
  • Climate change: To effectively adapt to and mitigate climate change and build climate-resilient communities, climate policies and actions must be gender-responsive. Women are disproportionally affected by climate change. Gender inequalities and limited decision-making power often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making, and implementation. Yet women have been included in gender-responsive climate policy and action, the outcomes are often more efficient and effective, as well as responsive to different needs and perspectives, and provide broader benefits to communities.
  • Land degradation: To overcome, restore and prevent land degradation, gender inequalities with regards to land rights, control, access, and participation need to be addressed
  • International waters: The sustainable management of transboundary water resources must involve both women and men as key stakeholders, and proactively address their needs and interests. Kura River project: Water resources management to address the water-energy-food ecosystem security nexus. As 70% of the earth is composed of oceans and 60% of the land lies on shared basins, several states draw on common water ecosystems. As women and men interact differently with water resources, their equal participation in transboundary water management must be guaranteed and their different needs and interests are taken into account. Their commentary knowledge and experience also contribute to preserving international waters.
  • Chemicals and waste: The disposal of chemicals and waste has negative impacts on women and men as well as natural resources. To properly address the different impacts requires a gender-responsive approach. Between 1950 and 2015, global plastics production increased from 1.7 million to 300 million tons. Due to the limited data availability, the disease burden associated with exposure to chemicals is currently underestimated.

The intertwined nature of environmental issues and gender equality illustrates the potential of improving environmental sustainability for the benefit of social wellbeing. These efforts can go hand in hand. While there is evidence of the importance of considering the gender and the environment nexus, data gaps still exist. Therefore it is also important gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation strategies are used in policymaking, project management, and research, to close the gaps and to track the progress of the SDGs.


The relationship between gender and the environment is dynamic, complex, and context-specific. Women and men have different social roles and are differently impacted by environmental issues. Women are not vulnerable, but also important actors of change. Gender mainstreaming is key to achieving gender equality. These contributions to economic growth and are a more sustainable future. International law instruments in the area of human rights and sustainable development recognize the importance of gender equality. It is a time to act, to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to harness the opportunities for transformational change so that a shift can be made to create just and sustainable societies.

[1] FAO, FAO Term Portal. Available from

[2] Global environment facility

[3] Global Environment Facility investing in our Planet

[4] Why gender equality matters in fisheries

[5] Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women

[6] Draft advocacy policy frameworks: Gender, Drought, and Sand and Dust Storms

[7] Gender: We promote gender equality and women’s empowerment conservation and sustainable development

[8] 2.1 GLOBAL POLICY LANDSCAPE: A supporting framework for gender-responsive action on climate change

[9] Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

[10] GEF

[11] GCF

[12] Mainstreaming Gender at the GEF

[13] Gender-responsive FLR in Malawi


[15] Women in Environmental Decision Making: Case Studies in Ecuador, Liberia, and the Philippines

[16] The GEF small grants programmer

[17] Gender and Environment resource center: Knowledge, tools and promising practice for realizing gender equality and environment goals together