Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson: 8th Women in Environment Conference

Speech by the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson at the 8th Women and the Environment Conference, Vulintaba Country Hotel, Newcastle, Kwazulu Natal 24-25 August 2017

Esteemed guests

Ladies and gentlemen

The Department of Environmental Affairs took a decision during 2013/ 2014 Financial Year to develop a Strategy Toward Gender Mainstreaming in the Environment Sector 2016 – 2021, the first such sector strategy in the country, in order to promote gender equality in line with our Constitution and National Development Plan as well as international obligations.

In pursuit of our gender equality objectives, the Environment Sector committed itself to take into account principles of gender equality in its employment practices, policies, programmes and service delivery. The sector has further committed to take initiatives that aim at addressing the imbalances of the past and gender inequality regardless of race, religion, disability, etc.

During the 7th Women in Environment Conference in 2016 we launched the Strategy toward Gender Mainstreaming in the Environment Sector 2016 � 2021 and Action Plan. Many of you who were part of the discussions at the 7th Women in Environment Conference in 2016 will recall that various commitments were made to concretize the Strategy. These included:

The Women in Environment Conferences will be held annually to maintain the momentum of gender mainstreaming work in the sector.

Continue to recognize the contribution of women in the environment sector.

Renewed urgency to accelerate efforts to make women’s concerns an integral part of planning and monitoring and evaluation

Engage with provincial and local government to implement programmes not at National Level i.e. Clean Up Campaign for municipalities not participating in Greenest Municipality Programme

A key outcome of this 8th conference must be to assess the distance we have traversed in implementing these commitments. Where are we in terms of the achievement of these strategic objectives, where have we fell short and what corrective actions are needed to accelerate their achievement in areas where we fell short?

Climate change impacts women in many sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no escaping the fact that Climate change impacts men and women differently due to differences in their traditional roles, societal expectations, and livelihoods.

Women, who make up the majority of the developing world’s more than a billion poor, generally have lower incomes, less access to credit and decision making authority, and limited control over resources, increasing their vulnerability to many climate impacts. Many scientific studies suggest that:

Women produce 60% to 80% of the food in developing countries. More frequent and severe drought, flooding, and pest damage due to climate change is expected to reduce crop yields.

In many societies women have the primary responsibility for collecting water and firewood. As climate change exacerbates resource scarcity, women and girls may have to travel farther to collect water and firewood, increasing threats to their safety, decreasing productivity in other areas like farming, and reducing time available for schooling.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. During and after natural disasters, a woman’s role as family caregiver is intensified, potentially leading to exhaustion and illness. Studies have also shown an increase in levels of domestic and sexual violence following disasters.

Women are already more vulnerable to under nutrition and have less access to medical services than men; climate change can exacerbate this situation. Changing temperatures alter vectors for diseases like malaria, higher sea-surface temperatures are correlated with cholera epidemics, and more frequent droughts and floods will worsen sanitation and hygiene.

What these statistics are suggesting is that in spite of the special demands, unique value and vital role women have in environmental governance, disempowerment of women in other social domain is duplicated into environmental governance. This is something that is still very prevalent today and our task as activists for gender equality is to utilize the various levers available to us to empower women and increase the voices for women in environmental governance. We can no longer afford to underestimate or neglect the role of women in building a sustainable future for the coming generation.

How we do this is what should occupy our minds as we start our deliberations at this important conference. The first step to make women full participants in environmental governance is to recognise that women are a largely untapped resource of environmental knowledge that we must use justly to combat climate change.

The next step is finding concrete ways to integrate women into the planning, development, and execution of environmental decisions and strategies for a sustainable future.

Many of you who are here today are experts in your respective fields. This conference must harness the experiences and knowledge of each one of you and come out with a clear plan to translate the intense discussions into actionable plans that will accelerate gender parity in the environmental space.

Thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa