Let’s Talk About Sex: Gender and the Nexus Approach

  • 2017/03/09     Dresden, Germany

    Image: shutterstock/Martchan

    In many areas women are responsible for water collection, at times having to walk long distances and carry heavy containers to provide water for their family. (Image: shutterstock/Martchan)

    A think piece by Kristin Meyer, Research Assistant, Capacity Development and Governance

    “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”
    Rio Declaration, Principle 1

    Gender is a determining factor when we talk about power and resources. Often women lack representation and decision-making powers, not having access to resources or control over basic necessities, such as means of food production and distribution, and being prevented from owning land, to name a few. Taking a gender perspective and analysing the role of men and women is a critical part of understanding needs and barriers as they relate to vital resources and the protection of fundamental rights. Critical issues here are the achievement of equal opportunities and outcomes for both women and men.

    “The term ‘gender’ refers to socially constructed identities, attributes, and roles for women and men and society’s social and cultural meaning for these biological differences…”
    – General recommendation No. 28 by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, para. 5

    While efforts have been undertaken to make women and girls visible during a state of emergency, such as natural disasters, gender has not yet been integrated effectively into policy planning and development processes. The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action merely mentions a link between environmental protection, environmental resources, and the rights and role of women. There is a need to be more intentional about human rights in our design and implementation of policies, programmes, and institutional arrangements.  Only then can the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of society be addressed adequately and the goal of “leave no one behind” enshrined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development become a reality.

    In 2011, when the Nexus Approach took shape, well-being constituted one of its core objectives. This includes both the well-being of humans and of the environment. Yet, it is already difficult enough to investigate links between individual environmental resources and the sectors involved, without adding another level of complexity by considering issues of equality and equity based on gender, race, social status, and other factors. Informed decision-making in relation to resource management becomes meaningful only when the human dimension – effects on AND by different groups of society – is accounted for. As scientists and policy advocates, we should strive to revive this original comprehensive understanding of the Nexus Approach and integrate gender and minority perspectives into our analyses.

    “The main challenge under these constraints will be to reconcile long-term and global objectives (e.g. climate protection, ecosystem stewardship and equity goals) not only with immediate economic benefits, but also with the need to secure local livelihoods and the non-negotiable human rights to water and food.”
    Hoff, p. 4

    For too long, research on environmental management has focussed on increasing the efficiency of bio-physical processes and technologies, leaving engagement with stakeholders, policy discussions or implementation measures as an afterthought. The Nexus Approach, while drawing attention to interdependencies between sectors and resources, has only recently been framed within a governance context providing room for the integration of social, economic, and political dimensions that influence human well-being. Yet, questions related to equity, human rights, in particular gender perspectives, and their interactions with environmental resources and the ecosystem as a whole have not received enough attention.

    Adding the Sex Factor in Environmental Resources Management

    With a view to consider the gender perspective, UNU-FLORES is in the midst of assessing the use of water quality indicators in practice, with gender being one of the areas of concern. We are also piloting an index on the effectiveness of wastewater use, in which beyond bio-physical factors, social frameworks are also being considered. All these are first steps towards bringing in the human dimension in achieving the SDGs.

    A first step that can be taken is to apply human rights-based approaches when analysing nexus problems. Humanising the Nexus Approach not only allows us to determine the adequacy and effectiveness of political, institutional, and governance processes more generally, but most and foremost raises important questions regarding participation, accountability, equity, the rule of law and empowerment of individuals and groups that would lead to better outcomes for women and society as a whole. This involves disaggregating data by gender, social status, and other factors, considering the interrelationships between human rights to life, water, food, health etc. and environmental resource management and planning, and analysing in detail in what manner resources are allocated, accessed and distributed.

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, by making human rights a cross-cutting theme as well as by emphasising interdependencies between individual goals for sustainable development, offers a unique opportunity to instigate dialogues on synergies and trade-offs, e.g. between Sustainable Development Goals 6 (Clean water and sanitation), 2 (Zero hunger), 5 (Gender equality) and related human rights (right to water, right to food, non-discrimination).