New index aims to spur gender equality in environmental policy

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 20 November 2013 22:33 GMT

A farmer holds rice saplings as she walks in the rice paddy field in Khokana, Lalitpur, in Nepal, on June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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The Environment and Gender Index (EGI) ranks 72 countries on how they are translating international commitments and women's empowerment into national environmental policy and planning

WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new index that ranks countries on gender equality in environmental policy and action aims to motivate governments to do better, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said this week.

The Environment and Gender Index (EGI) ranks 72 countries on how they are translating international commitments and women's empowerment into national environmental policy and planning. The strongest performers are Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway, while the weakest are Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and Mauritania.

A report on the index said implementation of global international agreements on gender and environment is lacking in most countries. And women’s participation in delegations at intergovernmental negotiations is only 36 percent for biodiversity, 33 percent for climate change, and 21 percent for desertification, according to the latest figures.

In a foreword to the report, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said her country had been one of the first to consider gender in its national action plan to boost resilience to climate change, but the information available to support such work is too limited, fragmented and generic - not just in Liberia but around the world.

"What we measure is a political choice," Johnson-Sirleaf wrote. "What we fail to see — and what we, in turn, fail to respond to — sustains the status quo and jeopardises the powerful opportunity of turning hard-fought policy commitments into real change."

The new index would enable countries to "see exactly where they excel and why — and where some of the persisting gaps remain", she added.

Lorena Aguilar, a gender advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said the idea for the index had emerged from a conversation she had with a women in Nepal's Himalayas who asked if there was any evidence that different international agreements on climate, environment and gender equality had changed her life on the ground.

"That's where the EGI started - we didn't know (the answer)," Aguilar said at the launch in Warsaw. "The EGI is a call from the South - a response to those thousands of women and men in the countries that are suffering from climate change and who don't have a way to prove to the world what their condition is."

Another aim of the index - which the IUCN hopes to produce annually - is to establish a baseline before the world embarks on a new set of sustainable development goals in 2016, Aguilar said.

DATA GAPS

Ruta Aidis, who developed the index, said it would encourage transparency and accountability on promises made by governments under international agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It would also expand access to information on indicators such as the proportion of women with access to bank accounts and agricultural land, as well as education and literacy levels, civil liberties and property rights.

She said the process of compiling the index - which is made up of 27 dimensions divided into six categories - had revealed a lack of data broken down by gender.

Information about women’s roles and access in environment-related sectors is often not collected and reported, according to the EGI report. Sex-disaggregated data with broad country coverage on issues such as forestry, agriculture, water, energy, disasters and infrastructure does not exist, its researchers found.

The next step is to improve data and widen country coverage, Aidis said.

Most of the countries at the top of the index are wealthy nations - many of them European - while those near the bottom tend to be low-income.

But Aidis said increasing gross domestic product does not necessarily translate into higher EGI scores, and a country's commitment to gender empowerment was a key additional factor.

For example, impoverished Mongolia was a top performer in the Asian region, in 25th position, while oil-rich Saudi Arabia ranked 56. South Africa was the highest-ranking African country at 18, while the United States came 14th.

“As an independent tool outside the U.N. system to measure government performance, the EGI can help policymakers and civil society evaluate and set new benchmarks for government progress," Aguilar said in a statement.            

Ana Chichava, deputy environment minister of Mozambique, which ranked 55, said the information about her country's performance would help "guide our efforts toward gender equality and environmental protection".

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