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Millennium Development Goal #3: Promote gender equality and empower women
The MDGs represent a global partnership that has grown from the commitments and targets established at the world summits of the 1990s. Responding to the world's main development challenges and to the calls of civil society, the MDGs promote poverty reduction, education, maternal health, gender equality, and aim at combating child mortality, AIDS and other diseases.

Set for the year 2015, the MDGs are an agreed set of goals that can be achieved if all actors work together and do their part. Poor countries have pledged to govern better, and invest in their people through health care and education. Rich countries have pledged to support them, through aid, debt relief, and fairer trade

*Dalai Lama, Vancouver Peace Summit 2009

Gender, Climate Change & Copenhagen

Women, Dust & Empty Bowls

"...there is a growing sense that with the challenges that are facing us on climate change, on growing militarization of societies, on the security front, you simply can't address this with a sort of a business as usual strategy. And I think women and girls have moved from a place of sort of being, "There, there, dear, that's nice." On the side. Toreally being seen as an engine for change in other critical world areas of making a difference and making an impact in the world. And that's why I think this is our moment." Kavita Ramdas, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Fund for Women, September, 2009.

Reporting from Barcelona last month, where UNFCCC negotiations are underway in preparation for Copenhagen, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) announces that a concensus has been reached about the vital role women will play in next month's Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The conference, they report, "may be the first to recognize the gender dimensions of climate change, saving the lives of millions of women and children and taking a major step toward addressing the human impacts of climate change."

A woman and her young son sort through junk in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.

"The women of the world are demanding a paradigm shift that ensures their participation and leadership on decisions that affect their very survival and that of their families and communities," says Lorena Aguilar, Senior Gender Advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Wangari Maathai, chair and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, agrees, pointing out that while the climate crisis threatens all humanity, it is woman and children who stand to be bear the brunt of the impending crisis.

"It is extremely important for women to be considered, because since they have not contributed much [to climate change] it would be unfair to allow them to suffer, as is expected, without the help that their governments in that region need in order to create solutions," says Maathai.

Although women in developing nations play key roles in overseeing agricultural development, food production and energy-related tasks, until now they have not been afforded the requisite representation and participation in international climate change negotiations.

This past September, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President Tarja Halonen, of Finland, as well as other heads of state, called for effective and the immediate implementation of 1325 and an increased presence of women in climate change talks. Finlands' government has allocated €500,000 to ensure the participation of women in the Copenhagen talks.

"We call on governments and others to create an enabling environment for the participation of women at all levels in decisions making on climate change...and for resources and opportunities to be made available to ensure women’s participation [in the Copenhagen talks]... and that climate related financing should be gender sensitive," says Johnson Sirleaf at the "Peace and Security through Women’s Leadership: Acting on 1325 and Climate Change," forum.

Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of an African nation, points to the  March 2009 Monrovia Declaration, which recommends that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appoint a UN system envoy for Women and Armed Conflict, ensure the appointments of more women to decision-making positions at peace talks and promote women as viable stakeholders in climate change decisions and implementation of policy.

Rural Women in Development

A woman bent over her work, oblivious to passersby.

"We developed an infrastructure channel where the wisdom of women living in midst of the earth’s greatest challenges could find a voice,  so we can hear their agenda in their own words. Women ARE driving the global community: 85% of spending in the western world is controlled by women. This is an urgent task at a time when there is no nation on earth where women have an equal voice. As women receive the support they need to meet their own challenges, they are free to engage in communication. An information revolution is galloping across the developing world. More and more women are gaining access to speak to the world. Even in the most remote areas, impoverished women are using information technologies. They are walking to  cybercafes, using their cellphones to access information." Jensine Larsen, Pulsewire. 2009

Women as Small Scale Farmers

In the Thar Desert, day laborers pull a summer crop of mustard seed which will bring high prices for the landowner at the market. Without the assistance of a bore well, out of reach for many farmers, Rajasthanis depend on limited rainfall that usually only support one season of growing.

"I mean, you cannot meet a woman anywhere in the world and not be faced, again, with the fact that women are 70 percent of those who are the poorest in the world. And that's true, by the way, in the United States, again. Women are the majority of who's poor in this country, along with their dependent children."

So, I think we're going to have to make some real investments around how we see-- if we want to have these open, tolerant, stable, democratic societies. And that's the vision of the world that we have ahead of us." Ramdas, 2009.

"We have refocused strongly on food security, and by doing that we have to talk about the women who are producing the crops...the ones who manage household food security," says Annina Lubbock of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, one of the United Nations organizations that has been granted part of the donation. "We are talking about creating frameworks to recognize the role of small-holder agriculture, where women play an enormous role, as compared to commercial farms. This is key." Link

"One of the problems has been that we look at women's issues as women's issues. Soft, nice, check the box on the side. We have got to integrate these issues in everything we do. We've got a major food security initiative that the United States is putting forward. Women are going to be a pillar of that initiative, because the great majority of the small holder farmers, 60 to 80 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are women." Melanne Verveer

Women & Water

In Africa, over 40 billion hours each year are spent gathering drinking water.

Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, of the U.S. Department of State, singles out two international initiatives which are supporting rural women in managing agricultural production:  Ethiopian women who are "administering a surveillance system to anticipate needs prior to drought and Liberian women, who are "quietly revolutionizing farming in response to increasing droughts."

Ethiopia's water statistics are undoubtedly the most shocking of all sub-Saharan Africa. More than 80 percent of Ethiopians live in the country's rural regions, where as few as 24 percent of the population enjoys safe accessible drinking water. Armies of women, with huge barrels lashed to their backs, line the roads early each morning and again in the afternoon, part of millions of women across the continent  who on an average day walk four miles and carry 44 pounds of water back to their families. All too often, the water they return home with is contaminated with disease.

"They walk all this way for water that may not be by any means safe or drinkable," said Meselech Seyoum of the Ethiopian NGO Water Action. "This really affects development in the country because there are so many other things could be focusing on instead of working so hard to secure water."

Sir Richard Jolly, head of a new United Nations campaign called WASH--Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All, says that it is "women and girls who bear the brunt of the lack of clean water; it's women and girls who are intimidated and humiliated by the lack of sanitation." link

"I believe in every cell in my body that the creative human potential in women and girls is the greatest untapped resource on earth. The future is a beautiful thing. Women’s voices will come out of the shadows. Global decision makers will no longer be able to ignore us. This is not about charity this is about women." Jensine Larson.

"Women and young girls have to allocate large amounts of time to the collection of firewood, compounding gender inequalities in livelihood opportunities and education. Collecting fuelwood and animal dung is a time-consuming and exhausting task, with average loads often in excess of 20kg. Research in rural Tanzania has found that women in some areas walk 5–10 kilometres a day collecting and carrying firewood, with loads averaging 20kg to 38kg. In rural India, average collection times can amount to over 3 hours a day. Beyond the immediate burden on time and body, fuelwood collection often results in young girls being kept out of school."
Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2007/2008

"I think no change comes without resistance from those who've had the power before. And I think although it would be nice to say that, as I think the case that we're trying to make is as women's advocates, that this change is good for all of us. It doesn't necessarily feel that way in many, many different parts of the world. And so, I do think this is a time of incredible turbulence. Developing societies are trying to do what the West did in 500 years, we're doing in 60.

And I think that sets up some real pressures against which women -- in which women become sort of the fulcrum. And I think that there's a reason why women's rights have become the point of losing connection between both conservatives here in this country and progressives." Kavita Ramdas

Conclusion: Western Women in Solidarity:The Year of Women in Iran


"The Iranian women's movement is not simply demanding equal rights alone. It is demanding a larger universal reality, which is democracy.
"We are all passengers on the same boat. Our fates our intertwined. What we ask is that you cover news from Iran correctly. And say exactly what it is that women in Iran are opposing and fighting. When the world hears our voice, we know that they will reach out to us. We need the support of world public opinion. Because we are - at the end of the day - dealing with people, not governments." Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, October 9, 2009 Link

In writing about women’s issues in Iran during and after the June 12 election, IranDokht reporter Pari Esfandiari touches on five topics:  women as emerging political leaders, women as voters, the role of women’s coalitions, the role of communication and internet, and the role of art and pop culture. After the violent government crackdown, Esfandiari says her news agency  had to "be more creative" in their methods and became determined to expose the situation to the outside world and to remind protestors that they had wide international support. Today, she says that the symbol of the color green has moved beyond Mousavi’s campaign: it is now the color of an uprising that is "grassroots, organic, colorful, fluid, and persistent" – all feminine characteristics!

I would say that I just have simply stopped using that term "women's issues." I really don't know what that is. What issues should 51 percent of the world check out on? Do we not care about peace and security? Do we not care about health and education? Do we not care-- I think what we are talking about is the right of every human being, including the 51 percent that hasn't had much voice for the past millennia, to be at the table to make decisions about the changes that we want to see in the world. And in that sense, I think women have everything to do with national security and safety and, you know, a future in which we really are all more secure." Kavita Ramdas.


Endnotes: Further Information

Millennium Water Alliance
The World in Crisis: A Toolkit for Women
Woman storekeeper boosts Malawi farming
Project Muse: An Issue of Environmental Justice: Understanding the Relationship among HIV/AIDS Infection in Women, Water Distribution, and Global Investment in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa

Kavita Ramdas. Quotes from Bill Moyers Journal, September 25, 2009.
Jensine Larsen, Bioneers 2009 The Electronic Pulse of Women Transforming Our World

Photo Credits

Brazil3English by UNDP, MDG
Climate change canvas by oxfam international (Artist: Ashley Cecil)
"It’s hard to feed a family when you can’t farm. For people in rural areas, farming is often their only means of survival. But farming is hard these days because of changing temperatures. I wanted to show that the women have no crops to harvest – just dust and an empty bowl."
The boat ride, kashmir by eenar_6
Summer harvest by danielbachhuber
Women fetch water by ketooo
USHINDI WOMEN - UGANDA - Fetching water to survive by camatlarge.
Steung Meanchey 17(garbage dump, Phnom Phen, Cambodia, by ¡anna].
Poverty, Developement and Women in Pakistan by abro
lluvia desde el coche by llanosom
Entoto - women carrying firewood by ngari.norway
Ethiopia - Drought by IFRC
Solidarity by kolnstyle
The Path by
Iranian women by "موج سبز by مریم سبک خیز.

EcoJustice series discuss environmental justice, or the disproportionate impacts on human health and environmental effects on minority communities in the U.S. and around the world. All people have a human right to clean, healthy and sustainable communities.

Almost 4 decades ago, the EPA was created partially in response to the public health problems caused in our country by environmental conditions, which included unhealthy air, polluted rivers, unsafe drinking water and waste disposal.  Oftentimes, the answer has been to locate factories and other pollution-emitting facilities in poor, culturally diverse, or minority communities.

Please join EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PDT. Please email us if you are interested in hosting.

Originally posted to boatsie on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 07:14 PM PST.

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