Women and the environment

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As debate on climate responses persists, water levels rise and climate change is causing destruction around the world. Among the most affected are women, as they gather water, fish, or farm land affected by flooding. During pregnancy and motherhood, their health is more at risk. Meanwhile, their voices are often the last to be heard in environmental planning and management. They also have less access to land and productive resources.

This year, as the UN observes the International Year of Small Island Developing States, the theme of World Environment Day (5 June) is “raise your voice, not the sea level”. Here, we take a look at how women can and do make a difference. While not always recognized, women play a crucial part in ensuring that fragile ecosystems are protected, families are able to survive natural disasters, and natural resources are managed in a fair, efficient and sustainable way. Although women have proven their skills in managing natural resources and adapting to climate change, their contributions are often taken for granted or not valued.

World Environment Day

Women and the environment is one of the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by global leaders at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The Platform pinpointed three strategic objectives for government action on the environment. These include involving women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels, integrating their concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes, and establishing ways to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women.

Nearly 20 years later, women are making inroads and governments are increasingly seeking out their expertise and leadership when making key environmental decisions. Still, much remains to be done to support women’s roles in decision-making and secure a better future for all. To this end, the UN is working to place women at the forefront of sustainable development and efforts to confront the effects of climate change.

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Fast facts

Did you know?

  • Some 2.5 billion people – two-thirds of whom live in Asia, and a quarter in sub-Saharan Africa – still use unimproved sanitation facilities and 748 million people are without clean water.
  • If you think about it, that’s a sizeable chunk of the world’s population (more than 7 billion, in case you are wondering!).
  • There’s more: Women and girls are disproportionately affected.
  • How so? The distances travelled, especially in unprotected areas, to get water and the lack of safe, private toilets make women and girls more vulnerable to violence. This can also be an impediment to girls’ education and takes time away from income-generating activities.
  • Women and girls also bear the main burden of water collection in developing countries. In fact, an analysis of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa revealed that 71 per cent of the water collectors in the region are women and girls, and in just one day women collectively spend an estimated 16 million hours fetching water (men, 6 million in comparison).
  • We did the math: 1 million hours = 114 years = more than a century! Now, times that by 16… WHAT?!
  • The next time you grab a glass of water or walk on over to the bathroom, remember:
  • Sustainable development solutions can dramatically improve the lives of women and girls.
  • So what are you waiting for? Let’s go green. Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!


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In the words of...

Gisele Bündchen – Women Breaking Barriers to Clean Energy

Fashion icon Gisele Bündchen @giseleofficial is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Environment Programme. She has been dubbed the world’s ‘greenest’ celebrity. After a more than five-mile walk to gather firewood with women in Kenya, she speaks out about the need for modern energy to reduce women’s labour and reduce pollution.

Read her article »

Parker Liautaud – The Gender Bias of Global Warming


Parker Liautaud is a polar explorer and climate change campaigner. In 2013, he completed the fastest human-powered trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. He studies Geology & Geophysics at Yale University and is a Fellow at the Yale Climate & Energy Institute. He writes about the connections between human rights and women’s disproportionate vulnerability to climate change.

Read his article »

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Editor's picks

Gisele Bündchen experiences energy poverty in Africa

Where: Kenya
Organization: United Nations Environment Programme

On a visit to Africa, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen heads into Kenya to experience the reality of energy poverty, and to see how Kenyans are transforming their lives by using sustainable energy in the form of cookstoves.

Putting women at the forefront of climate change and disaster response in the Pacific

Solar engineer women in Fiji

Where: Fiji and Tonga
Organization: UN Women

Whether training women solar engineers in Fiji or assisting with the humanitarian response plan after a major cyclone in Tonga, UN Women is working with climate-change and disaster-management professionals across the Pacific.

Read more »

Protecting their crops through green technologies, Caribbean women fend for themselves


Where: Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica
Organization: UN Women

Through workshops, women farmers in Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica are learning more sustainable farming techniques and securing their livelihoods.

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Families in Bangladesh Learn to Cope with Storms and Cyclones

WFP/Ranak Martin
WFP/Ranak Martin

Where: Bangladesh
Organization: World Food Programme

Confronting the effects of climate change, women gain skills in disaster-preparedness on low-lying coastal plains of Bangladesh.  Some 4,500 women and men are building their resilience to natural disasters, enhancing food security and adapting homes to withstand climate-related shocks.

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Mothers lighting up homes and communities in rural Tanzania


Where: United Republic of Tanzania
Organization: UN Women

A tribute to six mothers and grandmothers from three remote villages in southern Tanzania who are bringing renewable energy to their communities, serving as role models, and increasing women's safety and voice in local development.

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Dinner on the Roof

Eman Nofal collects vegetables from her rooftop garden [FAO/M. El Shattali]

Where: Gaza Strip
Organization: Food and Agriculture Organization

Urban agriculture and water systems create new ways of earning a living for women. Through the use of rooftop gardens and creative methods of fish farming, 100 womens’ lives are changed.

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Lives saved in Viet Nam by involving women in disaster planning

Lives saved in Viet Nam by involving women in disaster planning

Where: Viet Nam
Organization: UN Women

Through the training of women in disaster management, as well as national lobbying, the contribution of women has been recognized and a government decree now gives the Women’s Union an official space in decision-making bodies.

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Momentum for Change, Women for Results

Where: Global
Organization: UNFCCC

Across the globe, women play an essential role in tackling the climate change challenge. They are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by leading initiatives that promote new solutions to addressing climate change, while providing economic benefits to communities around the world. They are also promoting transformative partnerships that help to adapt to the effects of climate change and build resilient societies.

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Wayuu Gold, fighting for access to fresh water

Where: Colombia
Organization: UN Women

This documentary tracks the efforts of one extraordinary woman from the Wayuu, Colombia's largest indigenous group, to prevent her community's fresh water from being siphoned off by new pipes to a nearby town. Climate change, which has left the community without a wet season or up to two years, has put additional strains on local resources, and means this fight for water is really a struggle to survive.


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