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