In Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote, “Women hold up half the sky”. In addition, women also manage half the soil, carry more than half the water, and raise more than half of the world’s population.
Women’s Equality Day, (August 26) celebrates the Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. The day also serves as a reminder of how much work still needs to be done. This makes it a perfect time to reflect on women’s role in sustainability, understand the way that women are disproportionately affected by environmental disasters, and improve environmental sustainability by focusing on gender equality.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were established in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. They also recognized gender equality as a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Furthermore, the UN 2030 Agenda states, “The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision making at all levels.”
Women play a crucial role in environmental sustainability. They produce 50 percent of agricultural output in Asia and represent nearly 80 percent of the agricultural labor force in parts of Africa. If women had the same access as men to agricultural resources, production would increase by 20-30 percent, and has the potential to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent, according to research by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Women face different types of discrimination depending on where they live. This gender disparity has led to ineffective and unsustainable management of ecosystems and resources worldwide. Moving forward, men and women need to be included in decision making, especially with regard to natural resource management. We have come far since the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted in 1920, but we still haven’t achieved gender equality. Supporting and empowering the women and girls in your life is a great way to work toward sustainability.