Women Activists Push For Gender Equality In Global Biodiversity Framework

Journalists and delegates gather in a room for a press conference.
Nairobi, Kenya
Women Activists Push For Gender Equality In Global Biodiversity Framework

Several women activists who participated in the recent United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity’s Fourth Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework expressed their frustration over the lack of women’s representation in biodiversity decision-making processes.

The meeting, hosted by the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi from June 21-26 2022, included more than 1,600  participants from 196 countries, including Malaysia. Negotiators were hoping to devise a set of f guidelines and internationally accepted practices to slow the destruction of he planet’s shrinking biodiversity over the next thirty years. The talks raised many concerns about the health and economic impacts of losing biodiversity, but did not succeed in establishing a final roadmap. That will be left to the 15th Conference of the Parties in Montreal, Canada from December 5-17.  

Twenty-one key action-oriented targets were identified as part of the “living in harmony with nature” goals to be accomplished, it was hoped, by 2050. Few of the targets embodied in what’s known as the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)  however, account for the unique knowledge and role of women in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiverse resources, according to Women's Caucus at the CBD member Shruti Ajit. 

"It is 2022 and we are still having to justify how women and biodiversity are related and why we need to have a gender-transformative framework and actionable points in international and national forums,” Ajit said during a press conference at the Nairobi convention.

"Women’s lives have been closely intertwined with the biodiversity around them and also influence aspects of food security, livelihoods and health of their households and their communities and through that, the world. Therefore, a specific target related to gender equality should be highlighted."

She and others articulated how women's dependency on healthy ecosystems to feed their families — and often with sole responsibility for doing so — has resulted in them being heavily affected by environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change as well as disasters like flooding.

Role of women in biodiversity

A standalone target for gender equality, known as Target 22, was first proposed at a preliminary CBD negotiating session in Geneva in March 2022, and agreed to by 13 parties, including Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala and Tanzania. At the Nairobi session, under pressure from a number of non-governmental organizations, the number of supportive parties increased to 22.

Women4Biodiversity director Mrinalini Rai said women are true biodiversity warriors whose myriad contributions are vital for conservationism and environmental protection. She cited agriculture as an example. 

Men are generally assumed to be dominant in that sector, she said. However, mapping work done by Women4Biodiversity led to the discovery that women are actually more knowledgeable in terms of land territory, water resources, seeds and herbs. 

"You have a vision of a farmer, what comes to your mind? Of course, men.  But the knowledge about seed handling, land territory, how and where to find food, firewood and water resources, women are better at this," she told the media.

Rai, who is also chair of the Women's Caucus at the CBD, said women are key biodiversity custodians but their rights, innovation, knowledge and practices have been neglected.

"A lot of economic jobs prioritize women because of their capacity for hard work and knowledge. However, women are also prone to gender-based violence, which is not only a human rights violation but also a barrier to conservation and sustainable development activities.”

"This is why we need to push for a new specific target on gender equality to recognize women's contributions and to protect our rights in biodiversity," she added. 

Rai said the proposed Target 22 is to ensure equitable access to and benefits from conservation and sustainable development for women and girls, as well as their informed and effective participation in policy and decision-making related to biodiversity. 

"A gender-specific target would serve to guide all biodiversity-related planning, policies and implementation with a gender lens that would ensure the full realization of the GBF. It would drive action towards gender equality priorities and would ensure that countries consider this target in their planning, monitoring and reporting processes," she said. 

Lack of documentation

Meanwhile, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International Global Governance Policy coordinator Cristina Eghenter said that among the many challenges they face  is the lack of awareness among policy-makers of the role of women in rural economies and, specifically, agriculture. 

"For example, women in rural economies make up close to 50% of the world's agricultural labor force and contribute to world food security. Yet they have less representation among the world's landholders and have far less access to finances." 

A delegation from the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity spent much of the conference trying to correct this misapprehension of the rural reality. Jennifer Tauli Corpuz, an activist with Nia Tero, a non-profit organization that is part of the Forum and supports Indigenous communities around the world, said that there is a need to come up with a specific target for gender equality.  Gender equality should be threaded throughout the final Biodiversity Framework, she said, rather than simply located in one or two of the ‘target’ areas, when the COP15 convenes in Montreal this December. 

This story was produced as part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, led by Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Bernama on 26 July 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner photo: Mrinalini Rai, head of Women4Biodiversity and leader of the Women’s Caucus at the UN Biodiversity Convention and Cristina Eghenter of World Wildlife Fund for Nature, at a media roundtable at the UNCBD Working Group 4 meeting in Nairobi / Credit: Stella Paul.

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