Emmeline Pankhurst, British Suffragette Leader, Born (1858)

“Votes for Women” was the battle cry of the suffragette movement during the last decades of the 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century.  The most famous—and fearsome—leader of that movement in England was Emmeline Pankhuurst, born on this day in 1858.  Mrs. Pankhurst was not an environmentalist, but her demands for equality for women provide an opportunity to talk about the same issue about the environment.

Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested outside Buckingham Palace in 1914 (photo by Imperial War Museum)

            Although Pankhurst achieved her goal of gaining votes for women in 1918, (and the same occurred in the U.S. in 1920), we still struggle to accept women as full and equal participants in all aspects of modern life. Consider, for example, that despite my best efforts, men appear in these calendar listings much more frequently than women. This is especially true in developing countries and distressingly true for matters affecting the environment and sustainable development. 

            We know that the best strategy for reducing population growth and expanding environmental consciousness is to educate girls and women.  This was a fundamental goal of the Millennium Declaration, and occurs throughout the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  One goal (Goal 5) is devoted entirely to Gender Equality.  Although progress is being made, women still hold only 25% of parliamentary seats and 27% of managerial positions worldwide.  And the U.S. has yet to have a woman president.

Wangari Maathai was an inspirational environmental leader in Kenya and around the world (photo by Fredrick Onyango)

            Agenda 21 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 (UNCED, or the Rio Conference) devoted an entire chapter (24) to “Global Action for Women Towards Sustainable and Equitable Development.”  It specifically called on governments “to increase the proportion of women involved as decision makers, planners, managers, scientists and technical advisers in the design, development and implementation of policies and programmes for sustainable development.”  It lists goals to eliminate female illiteracy, improve women’s reproductive health, establish women’s rights to own land, and many other specifics.  Because environmental impacts (climate change, pollution, land-use changes) tend to harm women and children disproportionately, Agenda 21 considered gender equality an urgent imperative.

            The Convention on Biological Diversity has taken a leadership role in developing an action plan for enhancing gender equality.  The program acknowledges that women throughout the developing world have the closest relationship with the environment—gathering wood and water, tending subsistence farms, and managing households.  These roles make their knowledge and participation essential to better place-based decisions about sustainability.

Women bring different knowledge and perspective to environmental matters (photo by Habib houndekindo)

            The IUCN has developed an “Environment and Gender Information” project that examines the gender equality of environmental programs around the world.  The EGI uses keyword analysis to examine how programs incorporate gender in their published documents.  The results vary, of course, but in general about 1 in 3 recognize the importance of gender-specific ideas and actions.

            If we wish for our world to be sustainable, then we should add a few more slogans to Mrs. Pankhurst’s “Votes for Women.”  Let our signs today say, “Education for Women,” “Decisions by Women,” and “Leadership by Women!”

References:

Convention on Biological Diversity.  2015-2020 Gender Plan of Action.  Available at:  https://www.cbd.int/gender/action-plan/. Accessed March 26, 2020

Global Development Research Center.  Agenda 21, Chapter 24.  Available at:  http://www.gdrc.org/ngo/agenda21/ch-24.html. Accessed March 26, 2020

IUCN.  Environment and Gender Information platform.  Available at:  https://genderandenvironment.org/egi/.  Accessed March 26, 2020.

Purvis, June.  Pankhurst (nee Goulden), Emmeline.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Available at:  https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-35376. Accessed March 26, 2020

UN Women.  Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, The Gender Snapshot 2019.  Available at:  https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2019/progress-on-the-sdgs-the-gender-snapshot-2019-two-page-spreads-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5814. Accessed March 26, 2020

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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