By Eva Rehse and Sandy McClure, Global Greengrants Fund UK
We need to act now to protect our planet, which is facing mass biodiversity extinction and the threat of a climate crisis that will impact every being and species on Earth, putting livelihoods, homes and lives at risk. Millions are already facing the destruction of their health and home because of environmental pollution.
Women are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by a changing climate and degrading environment. Why?Because women have been put into the positions of caretakers – of children, of elderly people, of natural resources – by society. The fact that women experience environmental degradation differently is a consequence of this.
Due to structural inequalities, women constitute the majority of those living in poverty, of climate refugees, and are more likely to die in natural disasters. As natural resource managers, women feed the world – in most countries in the global South, women produce between 40% and 80% of food. And yet they own less than 20% of land worldwide. The lack of equitable land rights remains a major obstacle to women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation.
Since 1979’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – a global “bill of rights” for women – international agreements have called for women to be equal participants in all decisions related to their environment. Most recently, the 2015 Paris Agreement enshrined a call to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women to address climate change.
What is sorely lacking however is action. Women continue to have less access than men to decision-making, funding and climateand environment related information and knowledge.
Despite this, women are taking matters into their own hands, and are finding and implementing important solutions to protect their environment and natural resources.
Whether it is the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative, leading the charge for access to cleaner water for all; the women of Yei County in South Sudan who, through cleaner cookstoves, protect the environment, achieve economic empowerment, and improve the health of their families; or Mama Aleta and her community who protect their forests and mountains from destruction in Indonesia, women play an important role in protecting nature, because they have a large stake in a clean, safe and healthy environment.
This is often dangerous work, because women do not just challenge big corporate or government interests when they defend the environment. They also contest the dominant patriarchal systems: facing many of the same risks as their male peers, in addition to gender-specific challenges and attacks. At the very least, women often have to balance childcare and domestic tasks with their environmental protection efforts – so “gender blind” external interventions risk simply excluding women’s unique perspectives.
Finally, women’s own environmental action is critically underfunded. As 2018 research by our organisation, Global Greengrants Fund, in partnership with Prospera: International Network of Women’s Funds shows, the proportion of international philanthropic funding going to the nexus of women and the environment is tiny – 0.2% at best, arguably lower if we look at funds going directly to women. If we accept that women are important stakeholders and have important roles to play for our planet, then this is simply a massive missed opportunity.
And this is where Global Greengrants Fund comes in:
Through our network of expert advisors, we are able to identify and support hundreds of grassroots groups every year, with small grants funding, mentorship and by connecting them with each other. Today more than 70% of our funding goes to women-led or women-focused environmental initiatives, plugging an important gap. We see ourselves as a bridge between our supporters, and those women, movements and community-based organisations.
This is especially important in today’s COVID-19 world, where environmental challenges have been exacerbated, and women have stepped up into the leadership of their communities’ responses, thinking about food security, food sovereignty, and resilience to future shocks.
In all of this, a human rights lens helps women protect the planet and call for gender equality, whether that is through land rights, the right to defend the environment, or through greater economic and political participation. People and planet are inextricably linked – and greater rights for one will help protect the other.