The criticality of incorporating gender perspectives in environmental issues lies in the fact that decision-making processes always start at home and at the individual level.
Power structures notwithstanding, most of the decisions at the household level are taken by women. The cumulative effect of all these gendered relationships is that perception and the state of the environment are often shaped by gender.
Vulnerability to the detrimental effects of degraded environment and the ability to cope with or compensate for environmental change are gendered. A gender-segregated workforce results in different exposures to environmental risks for women and men. For example, men might be exposed to toxic chemicals used in mining; women will be exposed to pesticides used in the flower-industry.
Biases in education and training systems may mean that women are less equipped to understand, cope with, and anticipate environmental change.
Survival of women and their families is closely linked to the health of the ecosystem thus they are the most sensitive to changes in the environment evinced by their being the first line of defence and closest contact with the land.
Water is present at many levels in the life of women. They collect and manage its use in the household for the purposes of cooking, washing, cleaning, and also discharging of the used water; this is to ensure household hygiene.
If water is misused or over used, it will ultimately contribute to the fast decline in the sea level and the poorly used water containing chemicals from detergents and soap that negatively affect the soil.
The same is true with land, women farmers are key players in the soil conservation, fertility and enrichment. Women employ methods such as fallowing, crop rotation, intercropping, mulching and a variety of other techniques to enhance the soil.
Away from the land, as they become more active in the labour force they are faced with serious health risks and unsustainable patterns of production in urban and working environments of developing countries.
To a large extent, occupational risk to women is still unrecognized. Increased use of chemicals in different factories or manufacturers like cosmetics and chemical industries create great health problems.
This can affect future generations through an increase in birth defects and complications in pregnancy.
Evidence is raised from different areas where industrial emissions have had an effect on women.
Water pollution in Uzbekistan has led to an increase in birth defects and complications in pregnancy. Pesticide exposures in Central Sudan are linked to 22 percent of hospital stillbirths.
Air pollution in the Ukraine has been linked to 21 percent of all illnesses affecting women and children. One in three women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer sometime during their lives.
Women are also responsible for the increased pressure on natural resources; their contribution to the rate of population growth cannot be under looked because to a large extent they are responsible for controlling the birth rate through the use of family planning methods.
The rapid population growth leads to economies consuming more resources much faster than they can regenerate.
The urgent need to improve living standards leads people to depend solely on natural resources for a living, this is evinced by increased activity in charcoal burning, fishing, poor farming that lead to deforestation, overfishing and soil erosion respectively.
It is also unfortunate to note that urban women destroy the environment unknowingly. They dispose of soiled diapers and used women’s sanitary items carelessly in plastic bags.
Subsequently, policy analysts have come to see women as especially vulnerable and their responsibilities, as day-to-day environmental managers.
This makes them both victims and contributors to the natural environment’s degradation. Therefore, natural resource management is now a cross-cutting priority in all government activities
This calls on policy makers and analysts to appreciate women’s role in the management of natural resources, therefore, design policies and programmes that include a full participation of women for environmental conservation like women’s participation on water committees.
Women also need to be informed and educated about alternative methods of cooking, farming, family planning (contraceptives) and waste disposal.
If women are well represented at higher levels of decision making, grassroots participation will be more effective. Support for women’s collective actions in addressing resource management problems is another instance of a general strategy to strengthen women’s bargaining power.
There is need to integrate gender concerns into work of environmental conservation, the exclusion of women from environmental projects through belief in the gender neutrality of projects would be a recipe for project failure.
The writer is a graduate student of Economic Policy Management-Makerere University.