I. Background

1. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is one of the most broadly subscribed international environmental treaties in the world. Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity is the international framework for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of its benefits. Within this framework, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, seeks to protect biodiversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. With 190 Parties, the Convention on Biological Diversity has near-universal participation among countries that have committed to preserving life on Earth. The CBD seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through scientific assessments, the development of tools, incentives and processes, the transfer of technologies and good practices and the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous and local communities, civil society and business.

2. The importance of gender mainstreaming in environmental and poverty eradication policies has been recognized in a wide range of global agreements and forums, including chapter 24 of Agenda 21 (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992; the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development; the 2000Millennium Declaration; and the requirements and agreements set out in the 1975 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Other internal mandates within the United Nations system also calling for gender equality, include: the substantive sessions of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 2004 and 2005; the outcome of the High-level Plenary Meeting of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly—the 2005 World Summit (General Assembly resolution 60/1, paragraphs 58,59 and 116); Economic and Social Council resolution 2005/31 on mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system (annex II).

3. In addition, paragraph 253 (c) under strategic objective K.1 of the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, calls upon Governments, at all levels, including municipal authorities, as appropriate to take actions to be: “Encourage, subject to national legislation and consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the effective protection and use of the knowledge, innovations and practices of women of indigenous and local communities, including practices relating to traditional medicines, biodiversity and indigenous technologies, and endeavour to ensure that these are respected, maintained, promoted and preserved in an ecologically sustainable manner, and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge; in addition, safeguard the existing intellectual property rights of these women as protected under national and international law; work actively, where necessary, to find additional ways and means for the effective protection and use of such knowledge, innovations and practices, subject to national legislation and consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity and relevant international law, and encourage fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovation and practices”.

4. At its seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth sessions, the Governing Council of the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) highlighted the role of women in environment and development. The Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-building requests UNEP “to integrate specific gender-mainstreaming strategies, as well as education and training for women, in formulating relevant policies, and to promote the participation of women in environmental decision-making”. Governing Council decision 23/11 calls on the Executive Director of UNEP to “develop and promote a set of gender-equality criteria for the implementation of programmes”, and “apply the United Nations Environment Programme gender sensitivity guidelines”. This can only be achieved through a high level, sustained commitment to internal capacity building on gender mainstreaming, utilizing various strategies, including organizational workshops and training, changes in policy and practice, and real accountability for implementation.

5. The Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved in isolation. It is not possible to achieve environmental sustainability (goal 7) while poverty (goal 1) and inequities between men and women (goal 3) continue to exist.

6. In the thirteenth preambular paragraph of the Convention of Biological Diversity, Parties recognize “the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and affirming the need for the full participation of women at all levels of policy making and implementation for biological diversity conservation”. The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) mentions women’s practices, knowledge, and gender roles in food production, as do various decisions of the Conference of the Parties, including:

(a) SBSTTA recommendation II/7, on agricultural biological diversity and the role of women in managing practices and knowledge;

(b) COP decision III/11, para.17, on promotion of women’s knowledge and practices in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the agricultural sector;

(c) The annex to COP decision III/14 on Article 8(j): gender balance in workshop organization;

(d) Annex I to SBSTTA recommendation IV/7, on potential impacts of tourism on cultural values, including gender;

(e) SBSTTA recommendation V/14, para. 2 (i) and annex and annex III to COP decision VIII/10, on gender balance in the composition of ad hoc technical expert groups, subsidiary body and roster of experts;

(f) COP decision V/16 – element 1 of the programme of work of Article 8(j) on promotion of gender-specific ways in which to document and preserve women’s knowledge of biological diversity;

(g) COP decision V/20, on gender balance in the roster of experts;

(h) COP decision V/25, on Socio-economic and cultural impacts of tourism : the fact that tourism activities may affect gender relationships (through employment opportunities for example);

(i) Annexes I and II to COP decision VI/10, annex to COP decisionVII/1 : Gender as a social factor that may affect traditional knowledge.

7. Decision V/16: Article 8(j) and related provisions states: “Recognizing the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and emphasizing that greater attention should be given to strengthening this role and the participation of women of indigenous and local communities in the programme of work”.

8. Under the “General Principles” the programme of work on the implementation 8(j) CBD calls for: “Full and effective participation of women of indigenous and local communities in all activities of the programme of work”. Task 4 of the programme of work calls on Parties to develop, as appropriate, mechanisms for promoting the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities with specific provisions for the full, active and effective participation of women in all elements of the programme of work, taking into account the need to: (a) Build on the basis of their knowledge, (b) Strengthen their access to biological diversity; (c) Strengthen their capacity on matters pertaining to the conservation, maintenance and protection of biological diversity; (d) Promote the exchange of experiences and knowledge; (e) Promote culturally appropriate and gender specific ways in which to document and preserve women’s knowledge of biological diversity Element 2. Status and trends in relation to Article 8(j) and related provisions.

9. All of the above refer to “women’s” participation in activities under the Convention and not directly to gender equality however, and particularly since 2007, a more focussed approach to gender mainstreaming has been undertaken at the Convention on Biological Diversity. For example, At its second meeting, held in July 2007, the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on the Review of Implementation on the Convention recommended that the Conference of the Parties at its ninth meeting should urge Parties, in developing, implementing and revising their national biodiversity strategies and action plans to, inter alia, promote the mainstreaming of gender considerations (UNEP/CBD/COP/9/4, annex, recommendation 2/1, annex, paragraph 8 (d)).

10. In March 2007, the Executive Secretary, Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf appointed a Gender Focal Point in line with a series of internal mandates within the United Nations system calling for gender equality and the mainstreaming of gender issues within all United Nations processes. In highlighting the importance of the role played by women, the mandates also note that gender is not only a women’s issue but that of girls and boys, and men and women.

11. The Executive Secretary’s decision also falls in line with that of the UNEP Governing Council at its twenty-third session, in 2005, in its adoption of decision 23/11 on Gender Equality in the Field of Environment. This decision called upon Governments and UNEP itself to mainstream gender in their environmental policies and programmes, to assess the effects on women of environmental policies, and to integrate further gender equality and environmental considerations into their work.

12. The Executive Secretary has also placed great importance on the fact that gender equality is a prerequisite to poverty eradication and sustainable development. The livelihoods of rural and indigenous peoples and those of communities living in poverty are often closely tied to use and conservation of biodiversity. In these communities, women play a leading role in caring for their families and communities, in sharing their intellectual and social capital, and in protecting and managing biodiversity resources. In many societies, women as well as men are agents of change, but neither of their contributions receive equal recognition. Gender equality between women and men has a cumulative effect of improved biodiversity management and protection and poverty alleviation for communities.

13. Gender mainstreaming has been the primary methodology for integrating a gender approach into any development or environmental effort. Gender mainstreaming is intended to bring the diverse roles and needs of women and men to bear on the development agenda. Rather than adding women’s participation and a gender approach onto existing strategies and programmes, gender mainstreaming aims to transform unequal social and institutional structures in order to make them profoundly responsive to gender. Achieving gender equality is a matter of shifting existing power relationships to benefit those that are less empowered.

14. To date, many efforts to mainstream gender have been limited to minimalist and short-term technical interventions that have failed to challenge inequitable power structures. Gender disparities remain among the deepest and most pervasive of all inequalities. According to the 2005 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report, gender continues to be “one of the world’s strongest markers for disadvantage” and reducing inequality would be instrumental in making progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Such inequalities span all sectors and are equally pervasive in the environment sector.

15. At present, progress on gender mainstreaming in general has stalled and some policies are at risk of being reversed. The environment sector is among those in which gender mainstreaming has taken place in a fragmented, superficial and inconsistent manner. Environmental policies that do take gender into account have only been partially implemented.

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