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This is a forum to share and disseminate information on Business and Environmental Sustainability, directed particularly to less engaging parts of the global community. It is an expert platform to engage with professional, business owners and policy makers on the need to have both business and environmental sustainability issues on the forefront of any decision making process.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The participation of women in sustainable environmental development has been largely overlooked until recently when Governments and development organizations and NGO’s recognised the roles of women in the development process. There is no intention to discount the input of our male counterparts in the regard.
It is obvious that women alone cannot work towards environmental sustainability, though they are direly affected by the decrease in the availability of natural resources. Women suffer the most in an event of loss of natural resources especially in the remote parts of the globe where their primary responsibilities include housekeeping and children rearing, food preparation, water and fuel wood gathering and agricultural production.
The loss of forest habitat that supplied supplementary foods, fibres, medicines and other products, has adversely affected the rural household subsistence requirements with a direct bearing on women. For instance, where wood is the primary source of fuel for domestic activities, women bear the burden of trekking long distances to fetch firewood; hence with deforestation due intense lumbering activities, one could only imagine the fate of the rural poor.
There is, therefore the need for women to participate more in natural resources conservation, and to stand up against extreme poaching and lumbering.
They should seize every opportunity to engage the Governments at whatever level to be more responsive in enforcing Natural resource conservation legislation as well as encourage more female professionals to manage such organisations that have the mandate to regulate environmental activities. They should be fully integrated into planning and implementation of intervention projects such as rural water management projects.
Environmental development is to a great extent incomplete if it fails to capture the importance and contribution of women in any development process. More so, that every environmental development policy; plan or project has an obvious impact on women and would be more successful with women participation.
There is a saying which goes thus; “educating a woman is educating a whole generation”, hence, the active participation of women calls for measures and initiatives that will give women more affordable access to education, training and better positions at jobs. This will result in better women representation; engender equality in terms of job of opportunities and economic empowerment of the women folk etc. Also there will be social inclusivity, better community awareness and engagements in formulation and implementation of programmes and projects as priorities and needs expressed by the women are well captured.
Supporting programmes that aim at putting women at the mainstream of development through women’s empowerment, welfare and self-reliance projects should be encouraged at all levels. There are a number of such projects in Africa. For instance, in Nigeria, we have had many mostly initiated by the sitting First ladies like the Better lives for rural women initiated by Maryam Babangida, and presently, Women for change initiative by Patience Goodluck.
Women have played a vital role in activities such as Harambe Projects (Kenya), brick making at Chitepo Agricultural Centre (Zimbabwe), housing projects by Kikuyu women (Kenya), corn mill societies (Cameroon), the Senegalese groundnut basin, cereals projects II (Senegal) and the Swaziland project of the UN Voluntary Fund (Swaziland). All these projects were aimed at reducing the heavy work-load of women and improving their socio-economic status.
These say a lot about women being an integral part of development if given the chance though with support from the male folks.
If women become more aware of the facts of the "situation" and assess the desired changes, then they can work towards closing the gap between the two genders and also participate fully in environmental and economic development at the community, national, regional and international levels. They would then overcome this historical gender inequality as well as perception of being "invisible" or "inferior" to men. This will engender socio- political and economical independence. Policies and programmes must provide for the roles that women must play as users of the environment and must seek to remove the constraints that hinder their participation in the development process.
Environmental strategies that enhance livelihoods and fulfil needs can probably help lay the basis for reduced rates of mortality and fertility. This will ensure reproductive strategies that cater for health and social development.
There is a strong need for initiatives focusing on group meetings, community participation, publicity awareness on environmental issues and education for behavioural change in terms of community’s attitudes towards women participation in the development process at the local, national and regional level as this is vital to ensure gender balance. To achieve environmental sustainability, there should not be a masculine tag to environmental concerns as Women and men complement each other in society.
I must admit that the road to gender sensitivity in environmental issues is long and winding, full of cultural humps and gender stereotype potholes; however this calls for a shared responsibility in our quest to achieve a sustainable future.

                                                By   Co-author, Maureen Agumagu, Nesrea- Nigeria

Monday, December 20, 2010

Women and the Environment

Women have long been associated with the environment, from the language used in describing nature to the individuals working the land. The language of “Mother Earth” and its weather is often feminine. Although some would discourage the use of these ideas due to personal standpoint, one cannot help but notice the connections the society has made in our ideas of a nurturing nature, and the similarities made between the roles of women in the society, as mothers. Women are also more likely to be working in agriculture or environmental movements around the globe. Although environmental concerns directly affect lives of on the Planet Earth, the relationship between women and these environment concerns remains unique and worth addressing. The information about environmental issues, specifically with respect to gender can be discouraging and, to some, scary. However, in no way is fear meant to be the end result. Instead, being informed is a way to call for action, a way to begin to make a difference in the environment, and in one’s self.
One of the many definitions of Sustainability, which I personally accept is that ability of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We can ensure that we do not undermine the ability of the future generation to meet their needs in various ways, such as Sustainable agricultural practices, Fair Trade policies as well as simple day-to-day life choices. The key concepts of sustainability directly affect the lives of women. Everyday choices concerning energy use and general consumption may not change your personal life, but can aid workers and farmers from around the world especially the emerging world. Sustainability promotes and protects the health of farmers and farm produce consumers as well as works to preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Fair Trade:
Arguably, a key component of Sustainability is Fair Trade principles, which include Fair Wages, Conducive Workplaces, Consumer Awareness and Education, Environmental Stewardship, Financial and Technical Support, Respect for Cultural diversity, and Public Accountability etc.
According to the Fair Trade Federation, 70% of the worlds 1.3 billion poor people surviving on less than $1 a day are women. It is evident that 70% of the artisans participating in Fair Trade practices are women. Hence adopting Fair Trade policies, which allow women to earn a good income and increase their control over their families spending, could rapidly reduce poverty and give women better representation. With such Policies, Women are more likely to spend their income on better schooling for their children, better healthcare, and overall healthier food. Therefore, it is obvious that a support Fair Trade Policy is a direct support to women.
There is also the environmental benefit in adopting fair trade. Here, farmers incorporate sustainable farming practices that guarantee safe and chemically free farm produce, mostly organic, and harness bio-diversity, as well as, which keep contamination from entering the ecosystem. In this respect, Fair Trade not only positively influences the environment but also transforms our lives especially women and children.
Climate Change:
One of the major areas of global environmental concerns and research is tied to climate change and global warming. Scientists and environmental activists link a number of catastrophic events through the years, and around the world to the excessive warming of the planet earth. Though there are many schools of thought on this subject which of the divide you belong and no matter the cause, or type of these catastrophic events or disasters women and children are generally more vulnerable.
The various cultural roles of women place them at greater risk during natural disasters; they play roles in maintaining their household, assisting in organizing the community and strive to do any work available in a fairly new informal economy created after disasters.
Coupled with Environmental crisis, this means that women would have to spend more time finding food, shelter as well as fetching water and firewood. Women are more likely to suffer illness and even death as they stay behind during evacuations to help the elderly and young.
Education is paramount in terms of mitigating the effects of global warming and taking steps to live more conscientiously with respect to the earth. Becoming aware and changing ones negative impact on the earth can help save lives around the world and preserve the Mother earth.
The Environment and Women’s Health:
The US Food Drug Administration (FDA) standards of acceptable exposure to environmental contaminants are often based on how men are affected. However, women’s bodies are different- they have different organs, hormones, and the higher potential to store contaminants in their bodies due to how women carry their natural body fat. The ability for chemicals and contaminants to stay in the body known as body burden is tested through urine, blood, body fat, and breast milk. Women carry these chemicals in higher dosage and in more ways than men. One of the greatest potentials of harm is to the fact that women’s bodies are humans’ first natural environment. In this respect in-vitro harm can be done to babies and also later through breast milk. The effects of pesticides, and other harmful substances contained in household products  such as plastic are linked to diseases in women, and consequently passed on to their children.
There is growing evidence that many of the diseases affecting women such as cancers of all kinds; heart disease; endometriosis and fertility challenges are all connected to environmental concerns.  These facts are scary, however there is HOPE if we stay informed as well as take personally steps to be the change we all desire and in our communities.
                                              By Co-author, Maureen Agumagu- Nesrea Nigeria

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sustainable Future- Energy Efficiency

Our world economy faces unprecedented challenges, whether from soaring population growth, resource constraints, a warming climate and myopic financial markets. Energy demand is expected to be 35 percent higher in 2030 than in 2005. Energy efficiency is, more than ever, a critically important 'energy source'. It is anticipated that the increasing costs of energy would more than encourage serious action on efficiency across the globe. For instance, the European Council approved a 20% cut in energy consumption through improved energy efficiency by 2020 in the European Union’s Strategy for energy and climate change, EU 202020. 
It is expected that other Political and Economic blocs across the globe would consider similar or better energy saving and efficiency policies with the necessary political backing to ensure proper implementation. Although there are no Policy pronouncements from the African Blocs yet, the Bloc is not waiting, but is working on actions and initiatives in energy efficiency and climate change adaptation at large.
Considering the fact that over 560 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to modern energy, the need for clean and efficient energy access can no longer be ignored.  Hence, African bloc must expand its efficient power generation and effective access for economic development and also if, indeed we must succeed in reducing or eradicating poverty, which ever one you prefer.
A World Bank study, Africa's Infrastructure Country Diagnosis revealed that addressing Africa's power challenges  and implementing regional trade will require spending US$41 billion per year; also that reforming power utilities to reduce inefficiencies would save US$3.3 billion a year. This thus, suggests that simply implementing energy efficiency projects or initiatives will save a lot of money as well as free up some energy access capacity.  
Some remarkable examples of the energy efficiency initiatives by African Governments include:
  • World Bank’s new compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs distribution project in Ethiopia, in which the Ethiopian Government distributed 5 million CFL bulbs. This scheme saved 80 megawatts of electricity with only half of the bulbs in distribution. To put this savings in perspective, a power plant with 80 megawatts of electricity capacity will cost about US$100 million. This implies that just investing US$4 million in new light bulbs yielded a US$100 million worth of savings in energy costs. This scheme ensured that low-income households reduce their electricity consumption by 55% which means lower electricity bills. the Country report stated that the Ethiopian Government besides designed a conservation campaign, upgraded street lighting, negotiated with large power users, and distributed 2.5 million efficient household cook stoves that use 40-60% less wood fuel. The catch also is that this saves women and children precious time fetching wood as well as saves trees; and
  • In Uganda and Rwanda 800,000 and 200,000 CFLs were distributed respectively in similar world-bank's projects with similar outcomes.
Remarkably, one would expect that this kind of initiative spreads faster across the African bloc, only time will tell if this will be the case.  I hope the that necessary measures have been put in place to ensure that these initiatives are sustained long after the World Bank’s projects end.
In my opinion, African Governments should reflect more on how to reduce energy consumption, conserve energy, and make access to energy to more people for more sustainable economic development and not scheme on how to stay in Power forever with nothing to show for it, at worst throw the country into civil unrest like recent events in Ivory Coast.
What do you think?
                                                                   Credits: Jamal Saghir, Worldbank Group