The theme of International Women's Day 2011 is "Equal acces to education, training and science and technology: A path to decent work for women". Achieving this equality is only possible by removing barriers to women's education and schooling. In the developing world, one important barrier is the disproportionate impact of biodiversity loss on women's health and well-being.
Across the developing world, many rural communities are heavily dependent upon natural resources for their health and livelihood security. Women and female children often have responsibility for managing and gathering these resources, such as food and water, and fuel for cooking and heating. And yet, despite their role as caretakers in households and communities, the environmental burden of ill health is borne particularly heavily by women.
When access to natural resources is reduced - through land degradation, conflict, or climate change - the time required to collect adequate resources each day is increased. This increases exposure of women to environmental health risks - including environmental contaminants, disease vectors or other natural hazards - and reduces their access to important sources of income. In extreme cases, such as large scale deforestation, access to important living resources may be entirely cut off, affecting women's livelihoods most directly.
The particular dependence of rural women on biodiversity,and their specific vulnerabilities to environmental degradation, must be recognised in health and environmental policies and interventions, and in plans to address issues of gender equality. The conservation and sustainable use of nature’s diversity must become a cornerstone of efforts to improve the well-being of women in rural communities.
To support this, rural women must be provided with greater access to education, science and technology in areas such as sustainable agriculture, sustainable health care and environmental management, in order to reduce health inequalities and create new opportunities and sustainable livelihood alternatives for women.
Women in the developing world must also be empowered with greater roles in decision making on the conservation and use of living natural resources, and in developing new approaches to dealing with issues at the interface of health and the environment.
For further information on how the COHAB Initiative aims to address gender equality in its programmes of work, please contact the secretariat.
Photo: An Afghan woman works with honey bees. Skills like beekeeping empower vulnerable woman, like this Afghan returnee, who would otherwise not be able to make a living. © 2008 UNHCR / R. Arnold. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.