Population and the Environment
In the developing world in particular, gender plays a
strong role in how resources are used and developed.
Women and girls often spend hours each week fetching
water for domestic use, for example; when water
supplies are erratic, it is they who suffer the greatest
consequences.(10) In Sudan, where deforestation has
quadrupled the amount of time women spend gathering
wood for cooking, the energy used to tote water
and fuel accounts for one third of a woman’s daily
calorie intake, according to the World Health
Rights to natural resources are often heavily
biased. Few women own property (in some countries they are legally prohibited from doing so) and few are
involved in high-level decision-making on the environment.
For the most part, men are still largely
responsible for deciding how the world’s natural
resources are used through industry, mining, livestock
grazing and land tenure.
Development agencies still offer technical assistance
mainly to men, even in places where women
are the ones toting the wood and water and tilling
the soil. When government officials or community
leaders fail to recognize the different ways women
use resources—growing vegetables for family consumption
in the spaces between male-managed cash
crops, for example—the resources are easily
But when women are included in natural resource
management, the results can be dramatic.
When a water project that excluded women in
the Kirinyaga district of Kenya failed, local women
formed the Kugeria Women’s Group and asked the
Ministry of Water Development to help them gain
access to safe, affordable sources of water. Their
efforts have brought water to 300 families, improved sanitation, and increased agricultural production. The
women have also become community leaders, working
to build a clinic and provide access to reproductive
health and family planning services.(13)
ICPD AND PEOPLE-CENTRED DEVELOPMENT
Before the ICPD, many policy makers tended to view “development” in the restricted sense of economic growth, measured
by gross national product. Prescriptions for development were
often confined to an economic agenda involving investment,
trade negotiations, infrastructure construction and monetary
aid. Considerations such as gender equality and equity, health,
education and the state of the environment were treated as
secondary if addressed at all.
Ten years after the Cairo conference, there is much greater recognition that good stewardship of the environment, people’s
health and the status of women are all interconnected and bear on the speed and breadth of a country’s development. True development must improve the lives of individuals.
Some demographers and scholars concerned with population-development relationships and the environment contend the Cairo conference over-emphasized sexual and reproductive health services and played down the macro-level relationships between population growth and the environment, the economy, poverty reduction, education and housing.
Such criticism is unwarranted. Cairo recognized that promoting
individual rights with regard to sexual and reproductive health would lead to macro-level progress as well—that meeting expressed desires and ensuring people’s
right to chose the number, timing and spacing of their children
would slow rapid population growth, without resorting to
demographic targets. Indeed, enabling health systems to meet
individuals’ needs and wishes in a more client-friendly manner
could even accelerate family planning use.
DEVELOPING INTEGRATED APPROACHES. Following
Agenda 21 and the ICPD, there has been greater international
attention to women’s stewardship of natural
resources, including efforts to integrate reproductive
health and family planning into conservation programmes.
Some environmental groups have developed
partnerships with population organizations. For
example, Conservation International has teamed up
with family planning NGOs and the Mexican Social
Security Institute to expand access to reproductive
health care including family planning, and to halt the clearing of forests in and around the Montes
Azules Biosphere Reserve.
In the mountainous provinces of central Ecuador,
where women do not have access to reproductive
health services and soil erosion is widespread, World
Neighbors has joined with a local NGO, the Centre
for Medical Guidance and Family Planning, to deliver
reproductive health care and to promote improvements
in local management of natural resources to
over 4,000 families.
In March 2002 in Helsinki, women environment
ministers and representatives from 19 industrial and
developing countries met with women’s NGOs and
issued a statement calling for: equal rights for women
in access to and control of natural resources, including
land tenure; policies that involve women in
decisions about resource use; better consumer education
on the environmental impacts of products; and
the development of “policies, legislation and strategies
towards gender balance in environmental
protection and in the distribution of its benefits”.(14)
POLICY CHANGES. At the policy level, many countries,
drawing on recommendations of the ICPD, its
fifth-year review, the Millennium Summit and the
2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development,
have emphasized the linkages among population
dynamics, sustainable development and environmental
In Azerbaijan, for example, the State Programme
on Poverty Reduction and Economic Development
takes into account population and environment
interrelationships; promotes public education on
environmental issues that directly affect population
groups; works to monitor environmental impacts
of policies at the local and community levels; and
emphasizes the protection and preservation of the
environment as both a source and an outcome of
sustained economic growth.
In the Seychelles, two comprehensive environment
management plans have been developed over the past
decade that integrate population and development.
The latest plan, covering 2000-2010, focuses on urbanization,
water management, population and health,
gender, environmental economics and sustainable