Opening Remarks at High-level side event on “Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific”

Delivered at High-level side event on “Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific”, the First Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment in Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we have heard in the Opening Session of this Ministerial Summit, we are at a historic juncture. Urgent efforts are needed to move towards a resource-efficient and pollution-free Asian and Pacific region. A growing body of evidence highlights that the success of these efforts - and the 2030 Agenda as a whole – depends on reducing persistent inequality and bridging gender gaps in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5. In Asia and the Pacific, not only is women’s aggregate labour force participation low and their access to gainful employment opportunities limited, but women are engaged in stressful activities given the type of work and environment in which they operate.

For sustainable development to become a reality in the region, it is incumbent on policymakers to address the pivotal linkages between gender and the environment in their development agendas. Women tend to be concentrated in activities and sectors that are impacted heavily by environmental degradation. Nearly 58 per cent of the economically active women work in the agriculture sector. Women constitute 54 per cent of the labour force in small-scale inland fisheries. And more than 80 per cent of rural households rely on biomass for fuel, which affects a substantial majority of women because its pollution has grave consequences for health.

Against this backdrop, the First Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment provides a timely opportunity for ESCAP to launch our new publication entitled Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

This first regional report comprehensively maps out the intersections between gender and environment at the levels of household, work, community and policy. By examining gender concerns in the spheres of food security, of agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry, this report identifies strategic entry points for policy interventions to which can alleviate the pressure on women engaged in hard labour in a deteriorating environment.

The nature of the dynamics between gender inequalities and environmental concerns are complex and interlinked.

Allow me to briefly highlight four examples which clearly illustrate these dynamics.

Firstly, the persistence of gender inequalities will exacerbate the constraints faced by households in maintaining food security. More than 60 per cent of undernourished or chronically hungry people in the world live in the Asia-Pacific region. Worsening constraints, including climate-induced weather variations coupled with deforestation, will not only increase women’s time burdens, but also detrimentally impact the nutrition status of women and the educational attainment of girl children.

Secondly, structural factors restrict women farmers’ access to credit, irrigation and extension services, thereby negatively affecting productivity. As of 2011, as few as 10–20 per cent of women in the Asia-Pacific region had secure tenure to the land they farmed. However, if women had access to and control of the same resources as men, their contributions would increase food production by 2.5 – 4 per cent, which would be enough to move 150 million people out of hunger and poverty across the developing world.

Thirdly, the Asia-Pacific region today has at least 455 million people who lack access to electricity and more than 2 billion people still relying on biomass, or solid fuel, for cooking. Women, especially in rural areas, bear the brunt of energy poverty and are heavily impacted by the reliance on biomass, which is the single most important feature of the energy mix in the region. Moreover, in 2012, it was reported that 80 per cent of the deaths attributable to household air pollution occurred in the Asia-Pacific region. The gravity of these data becomes even more apparent when considering that indoor air pollution is the second-most important health risk factor for women and children globally.

Fourthly, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 84 per cent of people working in fisheries and aquaculture and 94 per cent of people engaged in fish farming. Of them, 66 per cent of the workers in large-scale marine fisheries and 54 per cent in small-scale inland fisheries are women. Women often work as low-skilled, low-paid labourers and have irregular seasonal employment in processing, packaging and marketing. Although they participate in a range of activities throughout the value chain, their work is not formally recognized as official data only focuses on male bastions such as open-ocean and river fishing, ignoring activities such as post-harvest processing and net-making where women are concentrated. Therefore, it is imperative for policymakers to track the fishing cycle from start to finish, thereby making visible the “invisible work” done by women within the fisheries sector of the region.

Distinguished delegates,

The challenges before us may be significant but they are not insurmountable. ESCAP’s new publication outlines transformative gender-responsive policy recommendations that must be capitalized upon to advance the 2030 Agenda in our region.

The evidence in this report reinforces that integrating gender concerns into policy making in agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry sectors is imperative to tackle gender disparities and enhance women’s access to resources and economic empowerment. Specific actions to advance gender mainstreaming at the policy and programme levels include gender analysis and establishing gender targets and indicators within specific sectors, along with gender-responsive budgeting to support the equitable distribution of resources.

Furthermore, creating enabling environments to foster women’s effective participation and leadership in the management of environmental resources will reap dividends in terms of improved conservation and resource efficiency. Country experiences from across the region illustrate the positive impact of empowering women in local decision-making over the conservation of forests and fisheries.

In addition, as countries in the region are taking steps to transition to the green economy, this impetus must be harnessed to promote women’s green entrepreneurship, thereby enabling their economic empowerment while promoting environmentally sustainable products and services.

Our new ESCAP report also demonstrates the importance of enhancing sex-disaggregated data to enable member States to make more informed evidence-based policy decisions. By addressing this current gap, Asia-Pacific countries will be able to harness the synergies between gender and environment and move closer towards transforming the vision of sustainable development into reality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 2030 Agenda and ESCAP’s Roadmap for implementing this Agenda in Asia and the Pacific provides us with a concrete blueprint to embark upon our collective quest for a more balanced development strategy - a strategy that propels economic growth, protects the environment and advances social development.

Underpinning this strategy is the core principle that half of the population must not be left behind. Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies. Through the launch of this critical report today, I hope we can continue to build momentum towards the effective integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment as central issues in the region’s development policy agenda.

ESCAP, in partnership with the UN family, stands ready to assist our member States in developing innovative solutions in addressing the gender and environment concerns towards the realization of the vision of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific.

Thank you.