This is Why Women Should be in charge of Environmental Policy

Arshad Shaharudin
7 min readAug 29, 2021

This article piece is not particularly reflected by the situation that is happening in Malaysia. Most of the study cases and facts that I pulled out are from various countries; most are from underdeveloped and developing countries.

However, it is to address the recent changes in the Malaysian government, where we see, yet again, a male-dominated cabinet is taking charge of the country. Not politically motivated, but to make some sense why women matter in pioneering environmental policymaking.

We perceive environmental and natural resource management as a very masculine field. For an instance, when we say timber and farming, we imagine it as a male profession- that it has completely ignored how women are actually involved in the many processes of it.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change designed an international Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Program, or REDD+ and the studies show that this program’s framework will not benefit both genders equally.

Despite environmental issues affecting women more than men, there are still lacking women representation in the policy formulation processes.

Over the last two decades, there is only 20 per cent of women in the members of parliament are involved in environmental governance (UNEP, 2016). This mirrored deeply why women struggle and vulnerability are not being addressed or even noticed by many governments.

Access and Control to Nature

UNDP, 2009 reported rural women to spend twice more time than men- if not, more, in obtaining water and fuel from nature; while juggling their traditional role as a woman.

Their traditional roles are not exclusive to these, but definitely including providing and preparing food, taking care of children and elders, maintaining the livelihood of the household and case to case are the breadwinners for their family.

Women are safeguarding the source of water to maintain their responsibilities for sanitation and maintaining a hygienic home. On top of that, it is a basic human need. Water is as well a basic need in agriculture, gardening and raising livestock; in which many cases, all of these activities fall under women’s traditional role.

Lack of access to freshwater is challenging women to actively contribute to their traditional roles. They are likely to consume unsanitized water that will bring health hazards. Consumption will happen through drinking, as well in their cooking and further jeopardizing their food security.

SHARE OF RURAL POPULATION WITH ACCESS TO DRINKING WATER, 2017

This also extends to the chemicals and pollution that women faced in their non-waged agriculture activities. They are exposed to the uncontrol usage of pesticide and their house utilities, such as charcoal using in their cooking tools. In poorer countries or in rural areas, there are many percentages of households still relying on charcoal basis to produce their food.

This contributes to indoor pollutions that women faced more than men because they tend to stay at home more than males. The unproperly unventilated homes release high levels of black carbon that causes more or less 2 million death per year; which most are the victims are women and children from the poor community.

Female Recognition in The Industry

The traditional roles embedded in society force women to stay at home and this holds them back from participating in economic activities.

Even though they are active participants when it comes to retrieving the natural resources and in agriculture, the role of breadwinners are not on their shoulders, hence, they are not properly reimbursed.

According to the available data from the report of The State of Food and Agriculture written by the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO), 2011, female employment in agriculture is consistently lower all over the world.

The graph below describes how women are involved in terms of the labour force in the agriculture sector. The consistency of African women reaching almost half of their men counterparts that are involved in the agriculture labour force.

Note: The female share of the agricultural labour force is calculated as the total number of women economically active in agriculture divided by the total population economically active in agriculture. Regional averages are weighted by population.

Women’s participation in the agricultural labour force may underestimate the amount of work women do because women are less likely than men to define their activities as work, they are less likely to report themselves as being engaged in agriculture and they work, on average, longer hours than men — so even if fewer women are involved they may contribute more total time to the sector.

Looking at the same number in the graph below, we can see that females are reported to be in the lower number for them to be formally employed in the industry.

The data cover only a subset of the countries in each region. Definitions of adult labour force differ by country, but usually refer to the population aged 15 and above.

This imbalanced employment promotes vulnerabilities for women in maintaining their livelihood. FAO also reported that rural women tend to be employed in shorter-term compared to men and are underpaid

Employed women tend to have fixated hours to spend in their workspace, and to men, this promotes unhealthy livelihood of their household. Traditional roles forced women to accommodate family work, thus resulting in women being employed on a shorter basis to fulfil this role.

When women are forced to play their traditional roles and are being pulled out from participating in the economy sector, they naturally agree to this term.

Division Of Roles Between Gender

In 2015, the Philippines government conducted a meeting with the members of the Dulangan Manobo indigenous tribe in the southern part of the country to discuss logging operations on their tribe’s ancestral lands.

This is with the effort of the government to practice the “Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)” that is to ensure indigenous people playing some roles in the decisions that involving their land or that affecting them. This effort is mandated in Philippine’s law and also recognized by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous (Salcedo-La Vina, 2016).

Despite around 200 participants taking place in the meeting, only 25 women were there. They were seated at the sides and at the back of the hall avoiding attention on them and remained silent during the whole meeting.

When asked why they did not participate, the responses are “our husbands are more appropriate to attend,” or “we cannot ask questions, only leaders are allowed to”. These patriarchal gender roles have been pushing women to the side of the room to get involved in the things that they are in charge of.

It is for us to understand that women are intertwined with the environment and nature in their everyday roles, and these are often overlooked by many entities.

When the system fails to acknowledge this, they fail to educate women on many environmental issues and on the subjects related to it, thus it is a domino effect on environmental sustainability.

IUCN in 2015 with their IUCN’s Environment and Gender Information data showing from 881 national environmental ministries, only 12 per cent have a higher female figure involved in the parliament to hold positions that is related to natural resources, water, forests, etc.

Source: IUCN (2021)

It is also showing that with more women in parliament, it is more likely for them to ratify international environmental treaties.

This issue of women intertwining with agriculture is not new to the ear. In many developing and poor countries, albeit richer countries, it has always been women who pioneer the effort in agriculture.

It is also important to remember that agriculture is tied closely with food production and security, which naturally is women’s responsibility.

It is discussed, how women are the ones who are in charge of managing the household, not only when it comes to being the breadwinner, but also to be the one who prepares food on the table.

These traditional norms and roles give more light on how women should be given more voices when it comes to the decision of maintaining the agriculture, which is ultimately intertwined with food production.

However, women are restricted in so many areas that do not give them enough power and access to the thing that they are in charge of.

Simply like, a mechanic who is supposed to fix vehicles but they do not have access to their tools and the insights of the vehicles. They are just puppets who are doing labour work without giving them enough empowerment to take lead in the thing they are fluent at.

This is impacting them harshly for them to be the direct victim of the environmental deterioration. Basically, the one who are involved on the agriculture field every day does not have power, but the power instead is given to those who never attended the field; especially those who is in the policymaking.

In which, the process of it is completely ignored to the women who are on daily basis are working in the agricultural sector. The relationship between women and the environment can be seen as an interchangeable relationship. When actors recognized women roles, environmental issues tend to be taken care of.

The issue does not only stand at women and agriculture, it is about giving power and authority to those who are supposed to be getting it, to make it more efficient and reduce more harm while making the policies and such. Alas, in this case of agriculture, we can see how women are the idea of maintaining the agriculture industry, thus naturally, more women should be given more authority in this section.

In the longer run, it is the same women who are affected by the policies that were made without them in the policymakers mind, while they are the ones who runs the industry for the sake of so many people.

--

--

Arshad Shaharudin

A Media Studies BA graduate, now pursuing a Development Studies MA. Always read but doesn’t really write, hence, here he is trying.