WEDO Primer: Women and Sustainable Development: A Local Agenda
May 2001

Engendering Local Governance for Sustainable Development

Women experience everyday life differently than men. Traditional gender roles corner women into juggling multiple responsibilities in the home, at the workplace and in the community. As a result women have a unique knowledge of the environment and the importance of sustainability. But the demands on women also leave them with less time than men for political involvement, and without a voice in the decision-making processes that impact their lives and their environment.

Women are often poorly served as citizens in their communities. Services, infrastructure and design of cities and villages are seldom geared to women's needs: daycare facilities are both expensive and inadequate; public transport is often slow, inefficient and unreliable, and municipal services have rigid operating hours.

Women also bear the worst consequences of environmental policies that ignore the principles of sustainability, such as industrial logging, "over" fishing and toxic dumping. When water is contaminated, or large tracts of forests destroyed, or technology displaces workers, women have to cope with the increased difficulties of the day-to-day survival of their families.

The groundbreaking United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, affirmed women's critical contributions to environmental management. The final agreement, Agenda 21, proposed actions to strengthen women's role in sustainable development by eliminating obstacles to their equal participation, particularly in decision making.

Since then, WEDO has been working with other women's groups and non-governmental organizations throughout the world to empower women's leadership and integrate gender concerns in development policies and actions.

This primer addresses the links between gender and urban sustainability at the local level, where women have the greatest opportunity to impact policy-making processes and to exert influence over implementation. Our ultimate goal is to help women worldwide use the experiences and initiatives of grassroots women to leverage their own social participation, and to bring a stronger gender perspective into governance activities. If engendering local governance for sustainable development is one of your concerns, this primer will prove invaluable—for designing projects and programs, planning action and reaching others.

The information is organized into three sections:

Use the websites, contacts and other resources throughout the text to reach out to others and get involved.

Section I
Women Build a Global Movement for Sustainable Development

Women from around the world began promoting their role in sustaining the environment as early as 1985 at the United Nations Third World Conference on Women, in Nairobi, Kenya. Two years later, due in part to the lobbying efforts of women, the United Nations commissioned a global study on the environment by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

The mandate of the Commission, which was also known as the Brundtland Commission after its chair Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, was to examine the world's environmental problems and propose an agenda to address them.

The Commission's team of experts spoke directly to a broad range of people in all regions about their environmental concerns. The team discovered no single priority issue—people identified living conditions, gender issues, resources, population pressures, international trade, education, and health.

As a result, the Commission recommended organizing an intergovernmental conference, which would be preceded by a participatory discussion process involving civil society. Popularly known as the Earth Summit, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was subsequently held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 178 governments at the conference adopted numerous agreements in several key documents.

Underlying these agreements was the idea that humanity has reached a turning point. Current policies deepen divisions within and between countries, increase poverty, heighten gender and ethnic disparities, and foster hunger, sickness, and illiteracy—all leading to a more rapid deterioration of the Earth's ecosystems upon which all life depends.

UNCED was an important event for women worldwide, accepting their crucial role in achieving a different type of development—one that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. All UNCED documents included specific recommendations for strengthening women's participation in decision-making processes, most notably in Agenda 21.

Agenda 21, which is the UNCED blueprint for sustainable development, acknowledges the need to integrate women and gender at all levels. Specifically, the issue of integrating women "into all policies, programmes and activities," is expressed in Chapter 24, entitled Global Action for Women Towards Sustainable and Equitable Development.

Chapter 24 lists objectives for national governments including implementing the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, the official document of the UN Third World Conference on Women. Other key objectives for national governments included addressing women's roles in decision making, education reform, family planning, and anti-violence.

The extent of the involvement of women in the process was one of the most important aspects of UNCED. In order to ensure their issues were addressed, women organized regional and global preparatory conferences and lobbied for stronger gender language in official documents, leading to a fundamental victory—funding for programs addressing the specific needs of women.

WEDO played a key role in crafting the strategy advancing women's participation in the UNCED process. The innovative organizing found its momentum in the energy and enthusiasm of the global women's movement itself, with women's concerns for creating a healthy and just planet.

WEDO and Women's Action Agenda 21
Two feminist leaders from the United States and WEDO's founders—Bella Abzug, a former Democratic congresswoman, and Mim Kelber, a journalist and lifelong activist—saw the UNCED preparatory process as a unique opportunity to promote women's visions and leadership.

To accomplish this goal Abzug and Kelber brought together more than 50 women leaders, including parliamentarians, activists, and scholars, from 31 countries in October 1990 and together they formed the International Policy Action Committee (IPAC).

The first step towards building an international women's movement for sustainable development was to provide women with the opportunity to develop a set of principles and a consensual agenda of action. A global women's gathering—the First Women's World Congress for a Healthy Planet—was the take-off point.

WEDO launched the Congress in November 1991, in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. Over the course of four days, a panel of five women judges, from Australia, Guyana, India, Kenya and Sweden, collected testimony from 15 women experts who had documented how the environment and development crisis affected and involved women. Attended by 1,500 women from 83 countries, the Congress formulated and unanimously adopted its own platform: Women's Action Agenda 21.

Women's Action Agenda 21 is a document of principles that women worldwide could both contribute to and use for their own advocacy purposes. The Agenda is a means to encourage women to take and lead action, recommending accountability measures for advocacy at the UN and other international agencies and institutions, governments, industry and non-governmental organizations.

The first chapter, Democratic Rights, Diversity and Solidarity, presents a code of practice that has shaped the international women's movement, affirming the inclusion of women's visions and experiences in decision-making processes all over the world.

The proposed Code of Environmental Ethics and Accountability is based on principles of cooperation rather than competition, challenging the current economic and political approach, including "the barren instruments (e.g., systems of national accounts) on which all major economic and environment decisions are made." It also calls on governments to set a timetable for implementation of full-cost accounting that includes environmental and social costs and "assigns full value to women's labor in national accounting systems and in calculation of subsidies and incentives in international trade."

Recognizing that women have always been a majority in the pacifist movement, as well as leading most movements addressing toxics, transport and resources, the Women's Action Agenda urged "an immediate 50 percent reduction in military spending, with the money saved reallocated to socially useful and environmentally friendly purposes." Pragmatically, the Women's Agenda proposed that "armies be used as environmental-protection corps to monitor and repair damage to natural systems, including clean-up of war zones, military bases and surrounding areas, and to be available to assist citizens in times of natural and man-made disasters."

The Women's Action Agenda condemns the use of nuclear power, the dumping of waste and the use of food irradiation and calls for the adoption worldwide of energy efficiency, conservation and self-renewing sources such as sun, wind and water.

The delegates in Miami also took a clear stand on foreign debt and the rules of international trade, "rejecting the structural adjustment policies (SAPs) that shift the responsibilities of basic social services from governments to women's shoulders, as research has evidenced, without compensation or assistance."

In areas where women represent a majority of the labor force, their lives are particularly damaged by environmental destruction. The item "Women, Poverty, Land Rights, Food Security and Credit" of Women's Action Agenda 21 calls on the "UN, governments and non-governmental organizations to cease discriminatory practices that limit women's access to land and other resources, to increase allocation of resources that enhance food security, and to provide appropriatetechnologies to reduce women's work." The topic "Population and the Environment" was one of the most hotly debated during UNCED. In the discussions women objected to insinuations that population pressure is the chief cause of environmental degradation and submitted that the true causes could be found in "industrial and military pollutants, toxic wastes and economic systems that exploit and misuse nature and people."

Another main issue concerns women as consumers. Pointing to "the power of the consumer" as "decisive in industrial planning and production," Women's Action Agenda 21 pledges to support consumer campaigns that back "investment in environmentally-sound productive activities and encourage initiatives to reduce fossil fuel energy use, over consumption and waste.

Women's Action Agenda 21 at the Local Level
Women's Action Agenda 21 places a strong emphasis on the local level. Sustainability is an issue for all communities. At the local level, women can get involved and identify their unique connection to sustainability. Priorities will be different in small rural towns in Africa that are losing the natural environment upon which their jobs depend, from those in large metropolitan areas in Latin America where crime and poverty challenge the quality of life.

To help women organize, identify and set priorities for advocacy, WEDO followed the Women's Congress with the launch of the "Women's Community Report Card," a tool for evaluating the environmental health of communities. The report cards covers four areas of everyday life: natural environment, political systems, social priorities and human development. Over the years, these community evaluations have provided WEDO with valuable insights and creative ways to affect policy and provide education.

At the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in 1995, 189 governments promised women "equal access to" and "full participation in" power structures and decision making. They also pledged to set "specific targets" and "implement measures" to increase the number of women in government at all levels. After Beijing, many countries introduced quota systems, which led to a significant increase in the number of women being elected as city council officers or mayors.

WEDO, along with other international and regional networks promoting gender equality in society, saw this as an opportunity to craft programs to further strengthen women's leadership in the movement for sustainable development.

But five years after Beijing, women still only accounted for 12.7 percent of the world's parliamentarians—an increase of less than three percent. Seeking to correct the imbalance, WEDO launched a campaign—50/50 by 2005: Get the Balance Right!—in June 2000 in New York City during the UN Beijing+5 Review session. WEDO brought together women leaders from all regions to learn from each other's experiences and develop national and local strategies.

The Local Agenda 21 Campaign
WEDO is also working to bring more women into decision making through its participation in Local Agenda 21, a long-term, strategic action plan that addresses local sustainable development concerns.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) formulated and launched the Local Agenda 21 campaign in 1991 as a framework for local governments worldwide to implement the outcomes of UNCED. Many cities worldwide have since committed to LA21 campaign goals.

Five milestones were established to gauge the progress in meeting the campaign objectives: establishment of a multi-sector group to oversee the LA21 process; completion of a sustainability audit that considers social, economic and environmental conditions and trends in the community; using the audit to complete a sustainable community vision for the future; implementation of a LA21 Action Plan that identifies clear goals, priorities, measurable targets, roles and responsibilities, funding sources and work activities; and monitoring and reporting procedures, including local indicators, to track progress and to allow participants to hold each other accountable to the action plan.

In support of this initiative, WEDO launched the program Engendering Local Governance for Sustainable Development This strategy developed during a series of consultations with women's groups at the annual meetings of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), where WEDO has often co-chaired the Women's Caucus. The work was carried worldwide at a strategic meeting held in July 2000, in Dessau, Germany, at the "Global Cities" World Congress, organized by ICLEI.

At the meeting, representatives of 16 countries took part in a WEDO/ICLEI organized workshop on ways to overcome barriers and integrate women's roles and needs into social, economic and political life at the municipal level.

Section II
Challenges to Women's Participation in Local Planning

In the process of crafting a strategy to strengthen women's participation in sustainable development processes at the local level, WEDO, in collaboration with ICLEI, conducted a survey on women's role in implementing Local Agenda 21 through specific measures that address their needs as citizens.

The survey covered 20 cities in 16 countries, crossing Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, and Europe. The survey revealed the lack of a specific approach to gender either through Local Agenda 21 or other local sustainable development mechanisms. However, respondents also expressed the view that there is ample room to develop such an approach. The following general categorization of challenges is based on the survey results and on testimony from the WEDO/ICLEI January 2001 workshop. The testimony was from representatives of women's networks who analyzed local initiatives to engender sustainability actions. The challenges include a lack of gender consciousness, cultural traditions, women's multiple roles, gender bias and institutional barriers.

Lack of Gender Consciousness
There is a general lack of awareness among both women and men about how gender issues affect environmental issues. This has been a major obstacle to feminist environmental advocacy since UNCED. While many of the recommendations in Agenda 21 relate to the connections between gender and the environment, more gender-specific data are urgently needed. Such data are necessary to evaluate women's situation as compared to that of men in relation to specific environmental concerns.

In many countries, tradition is considered a main barriers for women who engage in public processes. Although traditional gender roles may vary within different cultures and communities, women are expected to remain primarily within the domestic sphere and face barriers to entering the public sphere at every level of society.

Women's Multiple Roles
Probably the most common thread that unifies women who become involved in local participatory processes—whether in developed or developing countries—are the multiple responsibilities as primary caretakers of house and family and working in paid jobs outside the home, as well as voluntary work in their communities. There remains a lack of institutional support for integrating women into governing processes.

Lack of flexibility in meeting hours and a shortage of childcare facilities create significant barriers to women's participation. Primary among these barriers to participation is the lack of adequate transportation, which greatly affects women's access to education, health and water.

Gender Bias
Even when women's participation and gender concerns are theoretically accepted in multi-stakeholder forums, it takes substantial effort to change the balance of power relations. Gender bias plays an important role, for example, in influencing resource allocation. Attitudinal barriers are deeply rooted in patriarchy-based socialization, where men are considered superior to women— a systematic disempowerment that has left women with little presence in decision-making bodies, resulting in the exclusion of their issues and concerns from the policy agenda.

Institutional Barriers
In this realm, poverty and illiteracy are interconnected problems that prevent civic participation, particularly for women who form the majority of the world's poor (70%) as well as the majority of those who cannot read or write.

Political parties, electoral systems, and legislative assemblies can throw up structural barriers to women's full and equal participation in politics. Electoral systems and political parties can both advance and limit political opportunities for women.

The 2000 UN five-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action shows that countries that applied quota systems in governmental bodies, national parliaments and political parties, experienced a significant increase in women's representation.

Campaign finance practices impose another barrier to women. Generally lacking in resources and usually unable to raise funds to compete with moneyed candidates, women will continue to be marginalized in politics unless present campaign-financing laws are changed. Whether elected to local or national legislatures, women also often find the structures formal and rigid, and the male-dominated processes overwhelming and alienating. Often, women legislators complain "it's too lonely there" or "it's a man's world" and openly seek assistance from women's support groups in a bid to increase their numbers.

Section III
Mobilizing Women's Involvement

Two strategies for overcoming the barriers to women's participation in local governance, based on WEDO's consultations with women leaders, NGOs and community representatives.

Strategy 1: Gather and Disseminate Gender-Sensitive Information

A. Gender Disaggregated Data and Analysis
The availability of research on women's situations and adequate gender-disaggregated data to support policy and program formulation is critical. In designing data approaches, it is important to recognize that women are producers as well as consumers of information. Therefore the strategy should be two-fold:

First, it should establish appropriate information-gathering mechanisms to encompass the complexity of women's experiences and concerns, simultaneously identifying problems, constraints and opportunities for enhancing gender equality in access to resources and decision making. The data must then be packaged in user-friendly formats and disseminated directly to women at local levels for use in actions to influence policy.

WEDO has compiled a list of the main indicators that address gender and sustainable development issues, helping to measure the complexity of women's roles. Especially important are indicators that measure the level of women's access to, and control over, resources of good quality.

When brought to women's attention, these indicators are useful in providing a better understanding of gender differences in environmental impact. Serving as examples and models that inspire communities to craft their own indicators, they are tools for stimulating more effective advocacy and policy monitoring processes.

We have classified these indicators into six areas of concern: decision making, water, energy, forests, living conditions and land.

Area of Concern: Environmental Decision Making
The indicators of participation in environmental decision making relate to issues of women in the management of environmental agencies, including NGOs and government.

They can be used to measure the extent of community involvement through outreach, training and use of participatory tools. The extent and use of gender analysis studies is also part of this category.

Sources: women11.htm.

Area of Concern: Water
Indicators related to gender and water include a series of measures related to ease of access to water—for example, the time spent on collecting supplies. Most of the other indicators attempt to identify the extent of women's involvement in planning and management of water projects, both within agencies and at the community level.

Source: Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean; UNSD'S WW2000, World's Women, New York 2000.

Area of Concern: Energy
The comprehensive list of indicators on energy includes three categories: basic measures of energy; women's access to alternative or improved energy sources, and women's involvement in energy planning and implementation.

Source: ECLAC, UNSD's WW 1995, ETHIOPIA GCS, UN Solomon Islands College of Higher Education

Area of Concern: Forests
This category outlines indicators of involvement by women's NGOs in forestry activities and gender-related programs by forestry agencies.

Source: ECLAC, UNSD's WW 1995

Area of Concern: Human Settlements, Environmental Health, and Urban Environment
In terms of settlement programs, equal access is the main measurement used to develop data, and environmental health is also a rich area for a variety of indicators. Urban environment indicators measure gender through EIS (environmental impact statements)—procedures required by many governments in most projects that have the potential to affect the environment.

Source: ECLAC, UNSD's WW 1995

Area of Concern: Land and Credit
Women's access to land and credit through formal institutions are critical issues in many developing countries. In terms of land the focus of analysis is on equity of access. Credit inequities can be quantified through systemic measurements of the "gender gap."

Source: T. Beck, The Commonwealth Secretariat—Using Gender Sensitive Indicators.

B. Other Instruments for Measuring Gender Distribution of Public Spending

Gender Distribution of Public Spending
The Women's Budget Initiative (WBI) focuses attention on resources and the political and economic priorities that determine how they are allocated in government budgets from women's perspectives. It has been very popular in the last decade and has a great potential for application at the local level as a tool for gender advocacy in the realm of sustainable development. The WBI was launched in 1984 in Australia and, by early 2000, it was underway in 20 countries in four regions. WBI shows how gender-inclusive budgets are by comparing the distribution of the benefits of public spending between women and men. It allows women to monitor expenses to see if committed priorities follow budget allocations. The Beijing Platform for Action specifically called for gender-sensitive budgets under the heading Financial Arrangements. Women can therefore use a gender analysis to monitor whether resources are budgeted to implement national plans of action.

One challenge to implementing the Beijing platform is that often there is a gap between policy development and budget appropriations. A gender-sensitive budget analysis can bring the two processes together, as the Commission on Gender Equality in South Africa showed. The Commission's budget falls under the Department of Justice but the WBI revealed that the 1997/98 budget was not even sufficient to cover the remuneration of commissioners. Consequently, the government increased the Commission's budget allocation substantially.

Gender-sensitive budget analysis addresses three key objectives: raising the government's awareness of the impact of budgets on women; informing women about how they are affected by government expenditures and revenues; and promoting resource allocations that support gender equality and human development.

Examples of common gender issues reflected in budget allocation include not recognizing women's contribution to the market economy, normally underestimated due to incomplete statistics on women's paid employment; the unpaid-care economy, in which women do most of the work of maintaining the labor force; and the social work carried out by women to ensure healthy communities.

Source: UNIFEM, Chapter 5, Progress of the World's Women 2000. Report:

Women as providers of Information Many women's organizations have launched initiatives that enable women to express their concerns on a variety of issues. Primers, case studies and reports have been written and distributed for educational and advocacy purposes. Women's use of media is also a fundamental tool for empowerment, changing cultural values of societies. In some areas, women have created their own media networks, using low-technology methods that allow interaction, participation and expression. And in both developed and developing countries, more and more women are using the Internet for networking and business.

In Brazil, women use radio to mobilize and organize at the local level. More than 10,000 community radio stations have been established around the country and numerous programs on social issues are broadcast by commercial, educational and religious radio stations.

Ten years ago, aware of the importance of promoting a channel for women to voice and share their visions, CEMINA (Communication, Education and Information on Gender), an NGO based in the city of Rio de Janeiro, started a local radio program. This daily space enabled the group of women that initiated the project to build a methodology that soon became very popular among women's groups and radio communicators all over the country. Over the years, CEMINA has expanded the radio project by helping other women's groups start similar projects.

Today, this network includes some 350 women's radio programs. The women's radio network is considered one of the most effective initiatives in Brazil to advocate UNCED. It has played a critical role in mobilizing women and fostering their participation in local sustainable development initiatives.

Many of the radio programs initiated by women are the only ones that reach the most remote areas of the country, including the Amazon Region. For example, some of the villages that the Radio Program Natureza Mulher (Nature Woman) reaches by short- wave radio are otherwise connected to the outside world only by rivers—the letters that the listeners of the programs write can take weeks to reach Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where the program originates.

Source: Contact:

Public Hearings Gender information has to be well articulated if it is to serve women's purposes. Public hearings have been used successfully in many cities to integrate women into planning and to raise awareness for environmental improvement. The primary goal of the hearings is to bring together experts from environmental, women's and health organizations with concerned citizens and activists, combining their efforts and expertise.

Such hearings help build an understanding of the inter-relationships between the critical public health concerns facing women and those policy initiatives that address those concerns, mounted by government and non-governmental organizations alike.

Planning processes for these hearings have been used to strengthen alliances, allowing future cooperation and participation in activities that preserve health and the environment. The hearings have been critical in raising public awareness about health hazards to women and in informing policy makers on how to become involved in advocacy for women's health.

At the 1997 World Conference on Breast Cancer in Kingston, Ontario, Canada public hearings were used to help develop a Global Action Plan to Eradicate Breast Cancer. More than 1,000 people from 54 countries attended the conference, which was organized by the Kingston Breast Cancer Conference Committee and WEDO.

For the first time, delegates from every discipline—scientists, artists, physicians, lawyers, political leaders, environmentalists and health and human-rights activists came together on the issue of breast cancer. Nearly half of the participants were women living with cancer. These scientists, researchers and activists testified at the public hearing, bringing attention to the increasing incidence of cancer in developing countries as well as in industrialized nations.

Their testimony, which was reported on by the media, was presented to a panel of government representatives from legislative bodies and ministries of health and environment from Japan, U.S., Brazil, Guyana and Egypt. They were joined by key officials from international organizations. The hearings educated policy makers worldwide on leading researchers' latest findings on risk factors, detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Source: WEDO News & Views, September 1997

Strategy 2: Crafting Innovative Participatory Mechanisms

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) represented a major breakthrough in promoting women's participation in local governance. Acknowledging the barriers to women, governments committed to review "the differential impact of electoral systems on the political representation of women," and to consider reforms.

Many of these initiatives brought very successful outcomes: in India one-third of the Panchayat (village) seats are reserved for women by law; in Namibia women hold 42 percent of elective local positions; and in Brazil the number of elected women mayors increased 85 percent in the last decade.

In Beijing, governments also acknowledged the value of quotas in increasing the number of women in decision-making roles, calling on political parties to "integrate women in elective and non-elective public positions in the same proportion... as men."

Since Beijing, a significant increase in women's representation has been recorded in those countries that have applied quota systems in decision making in local governments, national parliaments, governmental bodies, and political parties.

It has also been more widely accepted that the multi-member proportional representation system works best for women. In such systems, voters cast their ballots for a party—and in some cases for an individual as well—and seats are allocated in proportion to the votes each party receives. The result is a shared, multi-party government. Of the 10 countries with the highest percentage of women in parliaments, all have systems that include proportional representation.

What doesn't work for women is the winner-take-all, single-member plurality voting system used in about 40 percent of countries. Of the nine countries with no women in their legislatures, seven use the majority system, one has a mixed system and the other appoints members.

Examples of Innovative Participatory Mechanisms
Strategies for engendering local governance for sustainable development must seek to sensitize those inside local government to help with access to resources. Many key insiders, politicians—both past and present—and non-political administrative personnel can provide valuable guidance and support on ways of involving local government bureaucrats in formulating gender-sensitive approaches to development planning.

In Trinidad and Tobago, one network of women's groups and other NGOs provides an example of how to overcome resistance.

Case Study Overcoming Bureaucratic Resistance: The Trinidad and Tobago Engendering Local Governance Initiative
The Network of Trinidad and Tobago NGOs sought support for a gender approach to electing local officials from highly placed government officials, including the Minister of Local Government. They also worked to make bureaucrats understand their importance so they could help move the process along.

Gender concerns were addressed at the level of the household as well as at the local, national, regional and international levels of governance. A central emphasis was on the importance of information and analysis so that communities can find their own solutions.

The initiative culminated in the creation of a Local Government Women's Council in Trinidad and Tobago. The model provides an effective approach to coordinating integration of gender and environment. The Trinidad and Tobago Council included both present and past counselors, and the women activists who worked in the campaigns, as well as other stakeholders.

WEDO works closely with the Network in the 50/50 campaign. The Network, which conducts a campaign training program for women, emphasizes the acquisition and development of political skills as well as gender analysis of budget allocations and local government laws, history and functions.

Source: Gender Sensitivity and Awareness-Raising; Engendering Local Government in Trinidad and Tobago, case presented at "Engendering Local Agenda 21" Dessau Workshop, July 2000. Contact Hazel Brown,; WEDO 50/50 campaign primers

Engendering local multi-stakeholder processes is necessary to develop supportive networks to encourage women's involvement and break the cultural resistance that many men, and some women, carry on gender issues. Several strategies have been used to overcome those cultural barriers. Both "women only" and mixed male and female dialogue and interaction opportunities should be held to focus on the issues. The "women only" mode focuses on including women of varied ages, professions and class backgrounds, facilitating contact and the possibility of establishing a common ground for action when the group becomes mixed.

Case Study Breaking Cultural Boundaries and Promoting Cooperation Through Roundtable Dialogues
Crossroads Resource Center in Mineapolis, U.S.A. uses an interactive approach in developing indicators as an early stage of public participation. Diverse stakeholders, including strong women leaders, were invited to develop indicators that would measure the sustainable development of their neighborhood over a 50-year time span. Resident leaders created groundbreaking, original indicators that expressed key social, cultural and economic issues in their locale. City-wide public roundtable discussions helped inform this local planning process. In these roundtables, citizens from all levels of society, including city officials, academics, professionals and residents, met together in a strong spirit of cooperation. Individuals were encouraged to put aside their individual self interest, and to collaborate in devising approaches to local sustainability. These roundtables highlighted the need for neighborhood residents to tap local wisdom if indicators were to be appropriate to local sustainability challenges. Resident committees then met for several-months-long planning processes, and decided that the most effective indicators would express linkages among issues that are often viewed as distinct. For example, women's safety was linked to urban design, economics, housing construction, community development, and youth development.

Case Study Women and Desertification in Brazil
A similar strategy was used in the State of Pernambuco, in Brazil, which is highly affected by desertification. In this case, the involvement of women in state-government-promoted roundtables has been critical to overcoming cultural resistance to accepting that gender-related issues affect the problem of desertification, and its possible solutions.

An extended drought had a tremendous impact on the burden of women's work, which affected their health. Normally, solutions would be very technical, without taking into consideration families' division of labor. The roundtable dialogues are a starting point to break biased policies that over the years have not benefited women.

Source: Cases presented at the Workshop, Engendering Local Agenda 21, ICLEI "Global Cities" Conference, July 2000. For more: and

There is a critical need for the development community—both governmental and non-governmental—to better understand women's cultural status and the resulting barriers to their participation. A very significant reality is that women make up 65 percent of the worldwide population lacking in basic reading skills. High rates of illiteracy clearly affect women's economic stability and their civic engagement, diminishing their ability to understand and transmit important sanitary, environment and health information to the family and community. Beyond that, in both developed and developing countries, women often lack basic understanding of governmental processes. Capacity-building and creative policy-literacy programs are among the urgent measures that need to be undertaken by governmental and non-governmental organizations to better integrate women in policy planning and implementation. Here are some examples:

Case Study Capacity Building for Women's Leaders in Sustainable Development
In Brazil, Network for Human Development (REDEH) has tested a capacity building model geared to increase women's effective participation in Local Governance for Sustainable Development.

The main components include: selection of participants and evaluation of individual skills, the training course, and the development of a common agenda to ensure follow-up.

Each group selected for the training has between 30 and 40 participants. Selection takes about six months and is carefully done in terms of maintaining a balance of sectors. The ideal group reflects a perfect balance among private and public sectors and civil society. The evaluation of individual motivation and previous skills is done through preliminary questionnaires and individual interviews.

The training course is developed in accordance with the skill level of the group, and it aims to encourage interaction and collectivity. Necessary skills include basic information about policy, planning and resource allocation, negotiation, computer proficiency, and the use of data resources. Each training concludes with the elaboration of a common agenda for allocating responsibilities and identifying needed resources.

Source: Cases presented at the Workshop: "Engendering Local Agenda 21," Dessau, "Global Cities" Conference, July 2000. More information: REDEH contact:; Fax: 5521-2621704

Case Study Women Test the Living Environment
In 1994, a coalition of governmental and non- governmental entities in the Netherlands started the "Women Test the Living Environment" to encourage women to take action to influence policy for sustainable development. In the course of three years, a large number of women's groups became involved in the project. In four trial provinces about 30 women's groups tested the methodology. It was developed further in other cities with men taking part.

The approach requires a permanent group of people from different sectors to meet regularly. The founding coalition provides materials and orientation.

The material produced is available from the Institute for Public and Politics, Fax: 31-20-6383118; e-mail:

Source: Kuhn, Jacqueline. Testing the Living Environment— On the Way Towards a Sustainable Development Society

Local Agenda 21 initiatives rarely acknowledge the central role women play in crafting solutions for sustainability problems. One strong exception is the city of Jinja in Uganda, where research showed that women could play a central role in the recovery of wetlands on the border of Lake Victoria. This innovative program won the city an award as a model project under LA21 and sets the stage for other cities to take similar steps.

Case Study The Jinja Urban Women's Wetlands Project
Jinja is the second largest urban center in Uganda with an area of 28 square kilometers and a population of 65,000 people. It is situated on the northern apex of Lake Victoria at its source, the River Nile. Despite once having been an affluent area, years of civil war and an increase in the number of villagers moving to the city in search of work, led to widespread poverty, a shortage of low-cost housing, malnutrition, unaffordable water and energy supplies and inadequate health and educational facilities.

In 1995, in an effort to repair the city's collapsed infrastructure and make basic services that were sustainable and environmentally friendly, the Jinja municipal council and ICLEI joined forces to prepare and evaluate a plan for implementing Local Agenda 21. The local multi-stakeholder forum researched and identified the most critical problems affecting sustainability, finding that the wetlands around Lake Victoria were the most affected area. Women were the key actors in that process, since they made their living from activities in that area such as the harvesting of papyrus, palm leaves and reeds for handicraft making, and sometimes for fuel, extracting clay for pottery, and the use of various local plants for medicinal purposes.

The research findings helped local forum members agree that women should be key players in sustainable wetland management. In response, the Jinja Urban Wetland Women Project was created to focus on promoting income-generating activities for women, including training in the use of alternative energy sources and the use of fuel plants, as well as alternatives to agricultural techniques that had been draining the wetlands. The project emphasizes education in wetland eco-system protection through learning-by-doing and from peers as members of a project team. The project also succeeded in fostering a partnership between the women and the municipality for sustainable use and management of the wetlands.

Contact: the Jinja Project at Source: Cases presented at the Workshop: "Engendering Local Agenda 21," Dessau, "Global Cities" Conference, July 2000. More information: