Environmentally Sustainable Development and Poverty: A Gender Analysis

Published on 1 January 2001

There is much debate over how to define the term environmentally sustainable development with many definitions emphasising some, or many, of the economic, political, social and ecological dimensions associated with the term. In recent years there has been a marked shift from an emphasis on the notion of the ?sustainability? of socio-ecological systems to a focus on the notion of the ?resilience? of the ecosystem, and people?s capacity to diversify their livelihoods to facilitate the ecosystem?s recovery from shocks and stresses.

Linkages between poverty and environmentally sustainable development are often dependent on how poverty is defined, the environmental problem in question, and the groups among the poor that are affected by environmental change/degradation in the context of uneven development. The causes of poverty and environmental degradation are structured by this uneven process of development operating via technologies, incentives and institutions and regulations which favour some. The broadening of conventional poverty measurements (income/consumption flows) to include other dimensions of poverty such entitlements and vulnerability is changing the way linkages between poverty-environment are viewed.

Much of the mainstream literature on environmentally sustainable development has ignored the gender dimensions. In the instances where there has been specific attention to women, they have been viewed as naturally privileged managers of environmental resources with little attention paid to how gender relations systematically differentiate poor men and women in processes of production and reproduction and relegate women to environmentally-based activities and limit their access to other types of livelihood activity. More recently, linkages between gender, poverty and the environment are increasingly discussed.

A gender analysis is increasingly seen as important because: experiences of poverty and environmental change are gender-differentiated; environmental security is mediated by gender relations; and women and men have both conflicting and complementary interests and roles in environmental management. There are significant differences between women?s and men?s experience of poverty and environmental change because of gender inequalities in access to environmental resources, for example: land and common property resources; command over labour, e.g. allocation of labour time; capacity to diversify livelihood strategies, e.g. accumulating savings and market oriented activities; and decision-making powers.

This implies that there is a need to widen the range of choices available to poor men and women taking into consideration gendered differences in rights over land and resources to enhance environmentally sustainable development. Effective natural resources management requires participatory approaches that take into account the different activities of household members, the impact of their different uses of natural resources on the environment, and the gendered interests and incentives for natural resource management. It is clear that more detailed research is required to establish the links between gender and environmental management in different contexts.

Publication details

Masika, R and Joekes, S
1 85864 345 7