Women, Nature and Development: Holding up Half the Sky

The nomination process for the Equator Prize 2017 closes on March 8th, which is also, coincidentally, International Women’s Day. In my previous post, I highlighted why rural communities are the leading edge of sustainable development. Today I explain why rural women are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially at the intersection of women and nature.

The Sustainable Development Goals include a specific goal on women and girls: Goal 5 highlights the need to end discrimination by assuring women’s rights through legal frameworks, and emphasizes the need to ensure full and effective participation and equal opportunities, including access to economic resources. We have a long way to go to achieve the targets in Goal 5. Women face legal discrimination and inheritance inequalities — 52 countries do not have legal frameworks to ensure equality of women. They spend between two and five hours more in unpaid household labor than men every day. In many parts of the world, women comprises the bulk of the workforce in agriculture, yet they own on average less than 20% of land.

But empowering women with rights to land and water, and access to credit and resources, would achieve far more than gender parity. If women had the same access to resources and credit as men, they could increase crop yields by up to 30 percent, in turn reducing global hunger by up to 17 percent. In fact, full gender parity would likely contribute $28 trillion in global economic growth. Furthermore, women invest 90% of their earnings on their families, compared to just 30 to 40 percent for men, yielding tremendous benefits in health, education, food security and water security.

The Try Oyster Women’s Association, a 2012 Equator Prize Winner, exemplifies how combining gender action with nature-based action can yield a potent engine for sustainable development. The association brings together 700 female oyster harvesters from 15 villages in the Greater Banjul area of Gambia. The women, most of whom are the sole providers for their families, work in cooperatives where they exchange sustainable oyster harvesting techniques, and receive training in small-scale enterprise development. The cooperatives support access to needed equipment and technologies, set higher standards for working and sanitary conditions, and coordinate the processing, packaging and marketing of oysters. As a result of the cooperative’s advocacy, the Gambian government granted the cooperative exclusive use rights to the cockle and oyster fishery in Tanbi Wetlands. These rights allowed the members to practice long-term sustainable harvesting techniques, including seasonal closures and size restrictions. As a result, the oysters now grow larger, and fetch better market prices, increasing from 30 cents per cup to 80 cents.

Fatou Janha Mboob, TRY’s Executive Director, explained that the 2012 Equator Prize Award “reminds them that in their quest to improve their lives, they are doing it responsibly and sustainably, and therefore admirably… (and) increases the trust they have in themselves, in each other, and in the Association. This confidence and trust building brings the women together as a stronger unit with a stronger voice.”

A stronger voice for women, especially in the interface between rural communities and nature, is exactly what we need to fully achieve the sustainable development goals. Our team looks forward to March 8th, where we will be celebrating International Women’s Day. And as we start sorting through the nominations for the Equator Prize 17, we will be keeping our eyes open for nature-based solutions that showcase how actions on gender and nature can help us accelerate local sustainable development.


About the author

Jamison Ervin is Manager of the Global Programme on Nature for Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York.

Follow her on Twitter at @jamisonervin

To find more posts, visit the Equator Blog.

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