By André Leslie
Of the 37 workshops to take place so far at this conference, only two have specifically tackled the issue of gender inequality and it’s place within sustainable development. This, despite the fact that women are undoubtedly the hardest hit by the effects of poverty and hunger.
Felix Dodds, the Chair of the conference, says that the main reason for the lack of gender-based workshops is due to the late registration of participants interested in that topic.
“We had a lot of interest from groups after the closing date,” says Dodds. “My guess is that if you did the registrations now, you would have a huge amount of workshops on this issue. The groups dealing with this problem are definitely here at the conference”.
Women’s projects on the rise
Anusha Santhirasthipam from Soromptimist International – an organisation that runs projects empowering women in some of the world’s poorest countries – thinks that one of the main round table discussions in Bonn should have addressed the issue of gender.
“59 percent of the world’s farmers are women, yet 70 percent of the world’s hungry are also women,” explains the Malaysian-born lawyer. “When you hear that, you realise there is something wrong with the world’s mechanisms.”
One of her organisation’s most successful projects was a chicken breeding programme in East Timor. It focussed on improving the lives of farmers, through education and practical funding.
Some of the participants at the conference think climate change discussions have dominated proceedings, to the exclusion of social issues, such as gender inequality. Others, like Janet Momsen, a lecturer on gender issues at the University of Oxford, say that there are international differences.
“In the US, gender issues are discussed a lot. That’s because environmental problems there aren’t really being addressed by the government there.”
Women losing in the numbers game
Part of the reason why women are often forgotten in discussions on sustainability is because the problem is hard to quantify, says Martin Caraher from the International Federation for Home Economics.
“A lot of agricultural production in the world is still done by the woman of the household. Economists can put a value on women’s work but I think a lot of the ignorance of their role is still to do with discrimination.”
Constanza Martinez from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organisation which also run grassroots women’s projects, agrees. “Women involved in this level of industry are not given an opportunity to make decisions, they are not in a position of power.”
The road to Rio
Certainly, the close interrelation between the various aspects of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – makes singling out a particular issue such as gender inequality problematic. Still, the occasional blank looks from participants over the last few days when questioned on this topic, suggest that gender issues seem to have lost relevance for some.
A number of women’s groups argued up until Monday afternoon for a fairer, gender-friendlier wording of the Declaration, which was due to be adopted at the conference.
Conference chairman Felix Dodds says that the trend for the future is positive. “I’m amazed by the ideas at this conference. As long as organisations here keep talking to each other, then we will be able to develop all aspects of sustainability ahead of the Rio+20 conference.”
Hopefully gender issues won’t be forgotten in that process.