The Beijing Platform for Action, developed at a 1995 United Nations conference, set an agenda for women’s empowerment and identified 12 critical areas of concern. Twenty years after Beijing, ShareAmerica assesses global progress in each critical area. This article focuses on women’s impact on the environment.

Even as women leaders in business and government shape policies that directly affect our environment, they are also hands-on managers of natural resources, particularly in developing countries.

In much of the world, women collect and store water, fuel and fodder. They may fish or farm. Their activities affect forestswetlands and agricultural land. Women’s close relationship to natural resources can protect the environment and promote sustainable development and successful adaptation to climate change. And their participation in policy decisions related to the environment is key to future sustainability.

Energy-efficient cookstoves help women, such as these in India, better conserve resources. (© AP Images)

At the grass-roots level, women’s full potential as environmental managers is being realized through education, technical training and greater control over resources. International agreements and intergovernmental studies provide road maps, but culturally appropriate implementation is critical to success.  In South Asia and Africa, providing women with solar and energy-efficient cookstoves not only improves their lives, it helps preserve forests.

Involving women as equals, integrating their practical knowledge, and enhancing their capacity to take charge of resources benefits everyone.

Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in environmental conservation and women’s rights. (© AP Images)

Hands-on environmental stewards, leaders

In many regions, women are leading the way as environmental experts, educators, innovators and leaders of environmental movements. Kenya’s Green Belt Movement was started by the late Wangari Maathai, who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Peruvian social entrepreneur Albina Ruiz and her organization, Ciudad Saludable, help communities manage and recycle garbage. Habiba Sarabi, as the first female governor in Afghanistan, in Bamiyan province, established that country’s first national park, Band-e Amir. American Frances Beinecke worked on global policy as president of the National Resources Defense Council.

This woman was trained as  a solar engineer by Barefoot College, an NGO based in Rajasthan, India. Solar engineers earn incomes and improve village quality of life. (Courtesy of Anu Saxena)

Thanks to organizations such as Barefoot College, solar installations maintained by women solar engineers now provide electricity to remote villages. A Barefoot College motto, “Changing the rural world one woman at a time,” reflects women’s vital role in sustaining both human communities and the natural environment.