From: United nations Environment programme (UNEP)
Published October 12, 2004 09:22 AM

Women as the Voice for the Environment, UNEP Hosts First Women's Environment Assembly

NAIROBI, 11 October 2004 —-- More than 140 prominent women environmentalists from 60 countries, including seven environment ministers and other high-level representatives, are meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi between 11 and 13 October to express their concerns about the global environment.

Among the headline speakers is Professor Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. She will speak on the theme "A World in Need of Women's Leadership". Professor Maathai has been a lifelong campaigner for democracy, environmental protection and women's rights. She is currently Kenya's Deputy Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

Under the banner "Women as the Voice for the Environment" (WAVE), the first Global Women's Assembly on the Environment will highlight the crucial roles women play in conservation and sustainable development. Participants will develop a Manifesto on Women and Environment with concrete policy recommendations and a portfolio of specific project ideas.

Discussions during the WAVE meeting will cover a wide range of gender-related topics, including how women and children are often the first victims of poverty, environmental degradation and conflict. A stark example is provided by the current situation in the Darfur region of Sudan where women collecting firewood and water outside the refugee camps are repeatedly subject to the threat of rape.

WAVE will be opened by the UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. Writing in a special edition of UNEP's magazine "Our Planet" devoted to "Women, Health and Environment", published in August 2004, Mr. Toepfer noted that women are uniquely vulnerable to environment-related health problems and are "often in the front line in terms of poverty, managing land and waterways, and sustaining communities".

"The role of women and their know-how is often undervalued and ignored. All too often they are treated as second-class citizens, with fewer rights and lower status than men", he wrote. "It is high time that national and international policies reflect gender differences and give far greater weight to the empowerment of women."

The WAVE meeting will run in parallel with a meeting of the Network of Women Ministers for the Environment under the slogan "Women in Charge of the Environment", being hosted by Lena Sommestad, Sweden's Minister of Environment, and Rejoice Madubafhasi, South Africa's Deputy Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

As well as women environment ministers, the WAVE delegates will include indigenous, rural and urban women. They will discuss a wide range of environment-related issues, such as conflict and peace, environment and health, urban challenges, and global environmental change. The women will also look at topics such as capacity building, education and enhancing local-global linkages.

A major focus of the WAVE meeting will be the UN General Assembly's forthcoming review of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in 1995 (Beijing +10). It will also look at the five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals and the thirteenth session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 13).

The meeting will also include a cultural programme, including a marketplace where women can sell local products, exhibitions, field visits and side events highlighting the connections between gender, culture and the environment.

Organized by UNEP's Division of Policy Development and Law, WAVE is part of an increased emphasis by UNEP to bring women's voices to the forefront of the environmental agenda and enhance the involvement of major civil society groups in environmental management and decision making worldwide.

A UNEP publication entitled Women and the Environment was launched in May 2004 as part of the run-up to WAVE. Another publication, Natural Allies, which deals with how UNEP can better interact with and benefit from civil society in general, will be launched during the WAVE meeting.

Writing in the foreword of Natural Allies, physicist and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva emphasizes the necessity of engagement between UNEP and civil society. "In this engagement lies the potential for resurgence of democracy and ecological awareness", she says, noting that the momentum achieved by the 1992 Earth Summit has been dissipated by an emphasis on commerce.

Gender equality and empowerment will also be a major theme at the UNEP's 23rd Governing Council, which will be held at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi from 21 to 25 February 2005.

"Women and the Environment" This publication makes the often hidden links between women and the environment visible, with an explicit focus on the gender-related aspects of land, water and biodiversity conservation and management. UNEP hopes that "Women and the Environment" will inspire the environmental and sustainable development community to better understand the importance of gender, and to integrate a gender perspective across all of its work.

"Our Planet: Women, Health and Environment" Throughout the developing world women are often the most intimately connected to the use and care of the natural environment. They are also particularly vulnerable to environmental change. The latest edition of UNEP's magazine "Our Planet" examines these and related issues, such as the implications of the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among women in South and South-East Asia (where 60 per cent of young people infected with HIV/AIDS are female) and the growing danger to young mothers and their babies from toxic chemicals. It also takes a frank look at the UN's progress in tackling poverty reduction and women's rights.

"Natural Allies" UNEP has the responsibility within the UN system of providing leadership and encouraging partnership in protecting the environmental base of sustainable development. Natural Allies explains the role civil society can play in UNEP activities, such as scientific assessments, the development and implementation of policy and law, raising public awareness and working with business and industry, and how civil society organizations can interact directly with governments and help strengthen UNEP's work.

For information on the first Global Women's Assembly on the Environment, see

To learn more about UNEP's work with women and other civil society major groups, please visit

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