News / 8 March 2017

International Women's day is still urgently needed

Today is International Women's Day. A day originating from women's strikes against poor working conditions in the textile industry, some 100 years ago. Since then, a lot has improved for women but, unfortunately, men and women obviously still don’t have equal rights. In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir already warned that ‘women’s rights will never be vested. You have to stay vigilant your whole life’. Recent developments such as the tightening of abortion laws in some countries confirm this view and show that even in the ‘free West’ women’s rights are still far from self-evident.

Keeping up the fight for equal rights for women is a task for all of us, primarily from a moral point of view. But if we want to tackle poverty, improve food security and protect the environment, it’s also essential that women have the same rights as men. Why? And how does this work exactly? We asked our colleagues, Sabina Voogd, Daan Robben and Annelieke Douma.


Women are leaders in sustainable development

"The statistics are still alarming", says Annelieke. "Two-thirds of the world's poor are women or girls, women earn 10% of the global income and occupy only 10% of parliamentary seats. One out of every three women are victims of physical or sexual violence. These are just a few facts in a long range, showing the huge inequality. But at the same time, in our work we see how important women are in achieving sustainable development, especially in poor countries. It is mainly women who stand up against polluting industries and who fight hardest to protect their environment. Often they have the best knowledge on biodiversity and traditional crops, on water and on the sustainable use of their land. Therefore, it’s important that women have a say in how water, forest and land is managed, that they occupy leadership positions and that they can use their knowledge and generate new sustainable solutions. This will not only help women, but the entire world. "


Give women land rights for food security

Sabina: "Globally, especially in poorer countries, women produce most of the food, both for domestic use and for local and regional markets. Men often work in large-scale agriculture for exports. We frequently talk about ‘local small-holder farmers’, but in general these are female farmers. Unfortunately, the land these women use to grow their crops on usually is not formally theirs. This means they can simply be evicted from this land, which obviously has a direct impact on women themselves, on their families and relatives and on local food production. Because women have a key role in their families and in the community, it's crucial they get official land titles to the land they work on. Women often know very well how to produce sustainably, so that not only they and their neighbors, but also generations long after them can still live off this land."


Women against climate change

Female farmers have to deal with the increasing consequences of climate change, such as droughts and floods. This reduces food production, and puts under pressure the water sources which they depend on for the maintenance of their families. "These women often have very practical, sustainable solutions", says Daan. "But they have difficulties bringing them into practice because they lack the resources and the influence. 'Climate money' from the international community is allocated to large projects via large institutions. The question here is if cutting corners will yield the best results. The people who really bear the brunt of climate change are often not reached and don’t benefit from large climate projects. In fact, these projects can even cause harm and damage, for example, if people are evicted from their land. So who profits from such a project? Certainly not the poorest. 'Climate money', in our view, should therefore be designated to those who need it most and who come up with viable and sustainable initiatives. And yes, in general these are women, who are still seriously underrepresented at all decision-making and implementation levels. High time to ensure that they get access to international climate money, and that they be given a say in how it’s spent! "


Both ENDS and women’s rights

As an environmental organisation we can only achieve our ambition of sustainable development if we take into account the challenges women face. The environmental movement has great opportunities to strengthen women who work the land, who provide solutions to food problems and who come up with realistic plans for adapting to climate change. Both ENDS ensures that women's groups have a voice at the negotiating table of, for example, the Green Climate Fund of the United Nations. We support and build innovative financing mechanisms, so-called "small grants funds" which can channel international climate money directly to women's groups. We also work with women's organisations who oppose destructive large-scale mining, infrastructure or agricultural projects. We support them in their campaigns and connect them with the actors that are involved or might have influence, such as Dutch and international policy makers and financial institutions.


We hope the fight that International Women’s day symbolically stands for, will be won some day. But as long as the position of women and men is still not equal everywhere in the world, we will continue to celebrate International Women's Day!


(Image: Cecil Cooper)

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