Time’s Up: Women and Environment

Current Location: London, UK

I recognize that I am an incredibly privileged person. I am a white cis American woman who grew up in a loving and supportive two parent household. I had access to food every day, education and healthcare, and I have lived in safe and clean communities.

Yet, I too have experienced gender based discrimination and harassment in academic, social, and professional settings. If a woman like me, who has had the most opportunities, still experiences sexism and harassment, I cannot even imagine what is endured by marginalized women, women of color, trans women, etc.

I have never been one to hold my tongue when faced with overt or subtle sexism because I am not afraid. I have never had to worry that I would lose my job, that people would dislike me, or that I would experience backlash. But not everyone is in the same privileged position as I am, so I hope I can use my voice to support women who feel that they must be silent.

Separately, I feel passionately that women are integral to sustainable development. I strongly recommend checking out this World Resources Institute blog post from International Women’s Day in 2016, entitled “If You Care About the Environment, You Should Care About Gender.” When I was an intern at WRI on the Food Team, I wrote the following excerpt as a draft of a “gender box” which highlighted the critical role that women must play on the path to sustainable consumption.


Around the world, women play a crucial role in household food security. Women farmers produce half of the world’s food, and between 60–80 percent of food crops in developing countries.[i] However, on average, farms operated by women have lower yields than those operated by men, even when men and women come from the same household and cultivate the same crops. For example, the World Bank found that in parts of Burkina Faso women had an 18 percent lower crop yield than their male counterparts in the same household.[ii]

Inequitable access to inputs and property explain much of this gap. For instance, women typically have less access than men to fertilizer and improved seeds and to market information. They have less ability to command labor, both from unremunerated family members and other members of the community.[iii] In rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, 95 percent of resources and technical assistance (access to information and to inputs such as improved seeds and tools) are currently channeled to men, despite women’s crucial role in food production.[iv] In some developing countries, women also may have lower levels of education, constraints on mobility, and high additional time commitments for child-rearing, gathering of firewood and water, and cooking.[v]

Perhaps most difficult to rectify is women farmers’ lack of property rights, which reinforces their limited access to inputs and credit because credit often requires collateral such as land. Although women represent an estimated 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force, they control far less land: in Kenya, for instance, women are only 5 percent of the nation’s registered landholders.[vi]

Studies project that rectifying these imbalances can increase yields. For example, the World Bank has estimated that if women farmers were to have the same access as men to fertilizers and other inputs, maize yields would increase by 11–16 percent in Malawi, by 17 percent in Ghana,[vii] and by 20 percent in Kenya.[viii] Overall, ensuring women’s equal access to productive resources could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent.[ix]

These gains in turn could have disproportionate benefits for food security because women are more likely than men to devote their income to food and children’s needs.[x] IFPRI estimates that improvements in women’s status explain as much as 55 percent of the reduction in hunger in the developing world from 1970 to 1995. Progress in women’s education can explain 43 percent of gains in food security, 26 percent of gains in increased food availability, and 19 percent of gains in health advances.[xi] In the same vein, FAO estimates that providing women with equal access to resources could reduce world hunger by 12–17 percent.[xii]

[i] FAO (n.d.) [ii] World Bank (2011) [iii] UN (2012) [v] World Bank, FAO, and IFAD (2009) [vi] World Bank (2011) [vii] World Bank (2011) [viii] World Bank, FAO, and IFAD (2009) [ix] UN (2012) [x] World Bank, FAO, and IFAD (2009) [xi] IFPRI (2000) [xii] FAO (2011a)


 

Life is not a zero-sum game. As this excerpt demonstrates, women’s empowerment does not mean the fall of men. To put it in economic terms: a rising tide lifts all boats. Equality benefits everyone, and I think it is crucial for both women and men to contribute their platform, to lend their voice to the chorus that says:

“No more silence. No more waiting. No more tolerance for discrimination, harassment or abuse. Time’s up.”

♲CV♲

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