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Jack of all environmental trades & masters of some:Finding our feet & laying the ground for future work (3)

Compiled by Makanatsa Makonese*[1]

Read last week’s edition here

Gender Equality and the Environment

Like in many other aspects of development, the issue of equality between men and women, boys and girls in the environmental sector and in environmental justice is important. In the same vein, there is a realisation that environmental degradation affects women and girls more than boys and men in many ways. For example, it has been proven that the world over, women form the majority of people that depend on environmental resources such as forestry and land for their survival and that of their communities.[1] In many instances women also form the majority of community environmental activists, working to protect and clean up the environment but also to fight against environmental pollution and degradation. ZELA realized early on in its work that women are critical partners in environmental management but that they are not given proper recognition and opportunity to participate in environmental decision-making at community and national level. One such realisation came through the ZELA Environmental Law Education Programme. ZELA used to carry out the community environmental law education programmes in open spaces in the communities that we were working in. We often carried food with us to be cooked for communities to eat during the daylong engagements. What emerged through this practice was that many women were often excluded from the main environmental law education activities to cook food for the participants. Realising the exclusionary nature of this practice, ZELA resorted to hiring paid people to cook during community meetings to ensure that all interested people including men and women could attend the environmental law education activities. This was a small but significant step in ensuring that women participated in community activities on the basis of equality with men. ZELA also took this chance to explain to communities why and how activities that were considered as mundane and normal could have gendered impacts and discriminatory outcomes.

In future initiatives ZELA also realized that women were often excluded in decision-making or were sidelined in community consultative forums such as on issues of compensation following relocation to pave way for mining activities. Such exclusion meant that women’s voices were not heard in decision-making yet the impact of the decisions that were subsequently made impacted them more than men. As a way of countering this, ZELA encouraged the communities that it worked in and with to include women in all aspects of environmental management. For example, in registering community-based organisations as community trusts, ZELA encouraged communities to include women as trustees to ensure that women could contribute meaningfully in environmental justice issues as participants and as leaders. The contests for inclusion in these trusts as trustees was always high and therefore ZELA’s appeal did not always result in women’s inclusion. However progress has been realized in this regard over the years and it remains a key concern of ZELA to ensure that women are included, are treated on the basis of equality with men and are given due recognition for their role in environmental management and in environmental justice.

Conclusion

There was a clear gap in the environmental justice sector when ZELA was formed and the organisation went all out in an effort to address all and at once. Although there were many organisations dealing with environmental issues, ZELA was the first one to address the issue from a public interest law perspective. As such the demands on ZELA were many and varied and the organisation was willing to embrace all the demands, requests and issues as they came along and do what we could. The result was that the load became heavy and often in some instances ZELA was found wanting as it lacked the financial, human resources and technical expertise to deal with all of the issues. In the same vein, ZELA excelled in many of the areas that it worked on. The organisation quickly attracted the attention of many people and organisations/institutions both at national and international level ranging from individuals, governments at national and local level, cooperating partners, academic institutions and other environmental organisations. This interest in the work of ZELA has continued and the demand on the organisation continues to grow. However whilst at the beginning ZELA was “master of all environmental trades and masters of some” the organisation has over the years realized the need to streamline its work to ensure a focused approach to programming so as to be effective and bring enduring results and outcomes. The focus now is not on doing everything and stumbling upon success, but on implementing a few carefully selected programme activities that have enduring positive impacts for the organisation, for the communities and other stakeholders, but most importantly for Zimbabwe as a country.


[1] Newcourse “Women, Natural Resource Management and Poverty” at http://anewcourse.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/women-natural-resource-management-and-poverty-PEW.pdf

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