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“Advancing Gender Equality and Human Rights to Stop the Biodiversity Crisis”

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A summary of the side event to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to inform about the intersections between SDG 5, 14, 15 and the Convention on Biological Diversity

Watch the event recording here

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In preparation for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York City in July 2022, Women4Biodiversity and FARN co-hosted the side event “Advancing Gender Equality and Human Rights to Stop the Biodiversity Crisis” last July 7. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Women, the UN Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International were co-convenors. 

The primary purpose of this session was to highlight opportunities on how applying a rights-based approach can help advance synergies between the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) to build back better from COVID-19.

The main objectives of the side event were to: 

  • Build synergies between the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and the Sustainable Development Goals’ High-Level Political Forum processes to build back better from COVID-19
  • Showcase specific recommendations from the post-2020 GBF discussion in mainstreaming and strengthening the human rights-based approach to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5, 14 and 15.

To accomplish these objectives, the event included the participation of Sylvia Hordosch, policy adviser and intergovernmental support at UN Women; Katherine Despot-Belmonte, senior programme officer at UNEP-WCMC; Cristina Eghenter, global governance policy coordinator at WWF International; Shruti Ajit, programme officer at Women4Biodiversity, and Benjamin Schachter, human rights officer and environment team leader at the OHCHR. This document summarizes their direct messages and gives a condensed vision of what was discussed during the side event. 

The panel at the event “Advancing Gender Equality and Human Rights to Stop the Biodiversity Crisis”


Gender inequality, biodiversity loss and climate change are the most significant sustainable development challenges. Despite progress in some areas, the world is not on track to achieving gender equality by 2030; even worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back the limited progress achieved. In this context, the High-Level Political Forum dedicated this year’s review towards SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 14 (life below water), and SDG 15 (life on land), to identify the leverage points to achieve these goals holistically efficiently. 

The linkages between these three issues are clear. Women and girls suffer disproportionate impacts from biodiversity loss and climate change, due to their greater dependence on and unequal access to natural resources. Additionally, deficient and undemocratic public services and infrastructure increased the disproportionate gendered impacts of environmental degradation. Nevertheless, women and girls are critical actors in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use and rights holders whose needs and contributions should be considered in the development and environmental policies. 

Unfortunately, as stated by The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022, “the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, and the social and economic fallout from the pandemic has made the situation even bleaker”. For example, in relation to climate and biodiversity action, there is a huge delay in progress in women’s access to leadership positions, as well as their ownership and secure rights and control over agricultural land and natural resources. 

Synergies between the Convention on Biological Diversity and Sustainable Development Goals

As the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is under negotiation, there is a significant opportunity to explore synergies between it and the Sustainable Development Agenda to ensure that nature, gender equality and human rights are at the core of development and nature policies. 

The recent SDG progress report highlights a decrease in the loss rate of forest areas and an increase in Key Biodiversity Areas over the last two decades. However, it is still not enough to tackle the urgent needs of the earth and its inhabitants towards peaceful and harmonious living. And in parallel, the report also mentions that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women and girls in every aspect, be it health, education, employment or access and control to biological resources. 

Since experience has shown that supporting and safeguarding gender equality with an intersectional lens within environmental policies is a genuinely effective development strategy, the GBF needs to ensure that the contributions, roles and practices of women and girls to defend, protect and sustainably use biodiversity are well-recognized, encouraged and rewarded. 

This could be achieved by putting in place a stand-alone target on gender equality seeking to ensure a gender-just response to the biodiversity crisis by guaranteeing: 

  1. Women’s full, effective and informed participation in decision-making
  2. Equal rights to and control over land and resources
  3. Fair and equitable access to benefits to biodiversity resources.

This gender-specific target will guide all biodiversity planning, policy and implementation from a gender lens, and it will ensure cost-effective budgeting and expenditure. Additionally, to support the Agenda 2030 achievement, the performance of this target would support the achievement of other international commitments, including those related to the two other Rio Conventions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), and on women, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform of Action. 

In parallel, the stand-alone gender equality target will strengthen already built processes and institutions where there has been some positive development in advancing human rights and gender equality while restoring and conserving nature. It can also be used as a tool for advocacy, monitoring and reporting.

Some examples of these actions were undertaken by Costa Rica, Malawi and Mexico. They partnered with international organizations and UN agencies to understand the gender-differentiated roles played by women and men in the forestry sector, and based on the analysis and maps they generated, they were able to update their forestry policies.

Living in harmony with nature requires the recognition of human rights and measures to achieve gender equality

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes that human rights are the core of sustainable development. And it has been reiterated by the recently adopted Resolution 48/13 on the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment, which recognizes the interdependence between a thriving nature and the fulfillment of human rights, well-being, and dignity.

Therefore,  in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity, there is a set of human rights that could be directly linked and looked after, such as gender equality, rights to access to information, participation and justice, as well as rights over lands and resources, associated traditional knowledge and other rights that can be collectively held and enjoyed.

If the post-2020 GBF is not embedded in a solid human rights approach, it will not be successful, transformative or ambitious to address the biodiversity crisis effectively. Only in having a gender-responsive and human rights base will the post-2020 GBF emancipate those who have been repressed by decades of colonization, exclusionary conservation policies and land degradation. Such a GBF will also help protect environmental defenders.

But, since recognition alone is not enough, there is an urgent need for Parties to be accountable, such that the implementation of the GBF increases enjoyment of human rights rather than violate them, and this could be measured and verified with tangible impacts. 

Concretely, concerning women and girls, this could be translated as addressing historical discrimination and poverty, especially for rural and indigenous women. Actions should include ensuring their economic empowerment, land rights, access to information, education and financing. Women, after all, because of their agency and knowledge and practices, can help to transform consumption, production and address the drivers of biodiversity loss. 

Final comments

To inform the Agenda 2030 High-Level Political Forum discussions regarding the interlinkages between the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals, the side event “Advancing Gender Equality and Human Rights to Stop the Biodiversity Crisis” reflected how an inclusive, transparent, gender-just, and rights-based sustainable development paradigm can be built. 

The panel concluded that gender equality is not just a women’s issue; it requires the engagement and commitments of all people, governments, institutions, civil society, the private sector, and others. This commitment should be materialized through targeted actions to ensure women and girls can enjoy their rights through systematic gender mainstreaming across laws, policies and institutions. Both ways require an effective, sustained and predictable resource mobilization. 

After all, as one of the speakers Cristina Eghenter from WWF International said: “Only with gender equality can we secure our future and for the future generations.”

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