Under the Weather: Understanding the role of Gender and its role at Rio
The famous Rio Summit will take place this summer June 20-22, 2012 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development which took place in 1992. As a world summit on the environment the key focus for Rio is to focus on sustainable development, a term which seeks to meet the needs of the present moment without obscuring the capability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Rio Summit elevated the importance of environmental protection and sustainable development as international institutions began to be involved in addressing environmental problems. Among the many issues which will be discussed at this year’s conference, gender is unequivocally one which will attract much attention. But why would gender be such an important part of discussion of the environment, climate change, and the global community? To answer this question, I will address some of the key points addressed in a short book published by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) entitled “ Gender, Climate Change, and Community- Based Adaptation” which essentially is to be used as a guidebook for designing and implementing gender- sensitive programs and projects.
Incorporating men and women into sustaining the planet and become independent rather than dependent on resources is an important part of any society. According to the guidebook gender is defined as follows, “gender refers to socially constructed roles, responsibilities, and opportunities associated with men and women, as well as hidden power structures that govern the relationships between them.” The definition furthermore notes that “inequality between the sexes is not due to biological factors, but is determined by the learnt, unequal, and inequitable treatment socially accorded to women”. The role of gender and its relation to development essentially characterizes the ways in which the roles of men and women hold different positions and responsibilities which inhibit their ability to contribute to the benefit of their community and society at large.
There is some evidence for women’s subordination relative to men according to Box 2.1 of the handbook. It notes that 70% of those who live on less than $1 are women, women work 2/3 of the world’s working hours, yet receive only 10% of the world’s income, women own 1% of the world’s property, and 75% of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women. How then should gender quality be promoted? The handbook notes that gender equality is defined in various ways but deals mainly with the following five key points (rights, opportunities, value, situation, outcome and agency).
A well-known Samoan legend about gender tells of men and women who were given a job to finish roofing two sides of a house. The men stopped working at the end of the day, leaving their work unfinished, the women worked through the night and the side was completed by the morning. The moral of the story here is that if you need something to be done you give it to women.
The points mentioned above are examples of how gender has become a universal approach in the international community and in international law. Incorporating gender equality in the environment is one of the ways the Rio Summit has changed over the years. Hopefully, the Rio Summit will answer and offer solutions to the problems that inhibit men and women from developing a better future for their families and for future generations.