Skip to content

International Gender-Environment
Policy Framework

It is now arguably well established in the normative international policy sphere that women and men have differentiated roles related to use of, access to, control over and ability to derive benefits from natural resources.

International policy frameworks have made crucial links between women’s rights across the environmental spheres and promoting attention to gender-environment linkages; including through human rights, environmental, sustainable development and women’s rights and gender equality agreements, mandates and global priorities (Table 1); the challenge is to take action. Table 1 presents some key components of the international policy landscape that recognizes the vital inter linkages between gender-environment, providing the basis for understanding the internationally agreed and often legally binding mandates dictation the necessity of promoting gender equality within the environmental sector.

International Policy Framework

CEDAW (1979): Gender equality is a human right that is enshrined in a number of declarations and conventions, including the legally binding Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is often considered the international bill of rights for women and is fundamental to advancing gender equality. Signatory governments are bound to take action to promote and protect the rights of women; they agree to include the principle of equality in legislation and ensure it is operationalised throughout their country. In Article 14, special attention is paid to discrimination against rural women, toward ensuring their access and benefits to rural benefit.
BPfA (1995): The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) includes women and the environment as one of the 12 critical areas for action and encourages governments to collect data on the impact of environmental degradation on women, as well as develop gender-sensitive databases (United Nations, 1995). BPfA is still considered the most comprehensive set of guidelines for the development of gender statistics at the national, regional and global levels (United Nations, 2016).
Agenda 21 (1992): The 1992 Earth Summit, or UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), marked a pivotal moment embedding gender equality considerations in environmental decision-making on the global stage. Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development. The Rio Declaration recognised the important role of women in environmental management and development, and Agenda 21 called for, among many other things, sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive databases (United Nations Sustainable Development, 1992). While not legally binding, Agenda 21 (UNSD, 1992) was for decades considered the blueprint for sustainable development, shaping national planning, donor investment and programming across the environmental sphere. Agenda 21 built upon previous plans and platforms that promoted women’s empowerment and gender equality with regard to crucial issues such as land ownership, resource stewardship, education and employment. Moreover, two of the three Rio Conventions (below), i.e. those derived from UNCED, included gender considerations.
CBD (1993): The first of the three Rio Conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has preamble text as well as many subsequent decisions of Parties that include gender considerations. In 2008, Parties to the CBD adopted a Gender Plan of Action, making it the first Multilateral l Environmental Agreement (MEA) to do so. It was recently updated for the period 2015-2020. CBD has integrated actions to enhance the monitoring framework and indicator system for gender mainstreaming in the Secretariat and at national level (CBD, n.d.).
UNCCD (1996): Similarly, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recognised women’s important role and participation in combatting desertification and mitigating the effects of drought. Parties have integrated gender into their decisions and evolved a Gender Action Plan—the latest version of which (September 2017) aiming to accompany implementation of the UNCCD 1830-2020 strategic framework (UNCCD, 2017).
UNFCCC (1994): Once void of social considerations in its Convention text and related decisions by Parties, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now has implementation informed by more than 50 decisions on gender equality made over recent years, including the Lima Work Programme on Gender (LWPG) and, in 2017, a first-ever Gender Action Plan (GAP) (Burns and Patouris, 2014; UNFCCC 2017). Among priority areas, the GAP includes a focus to strengthen monitoring and reporting of implementation of gender-related mandates under the Convention.
BRS (1989, 1998, 2001, respectively; synergy 2008): The Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (BRS) are designed to help protect human health and the environment from the negative effects of hazardous pollutants. Marking a first concerted step in advancing gender equality as a key issue across the three Conventions, a Gender Task Team was established in 2012 to mainstream gender across the BRS Secretariat and to support the work of Parties and stakeholders. A BRS Gender Action Plan (BRS-GAP) (BRS, 2016), developed in 2013 and updated in 2016, serves as the guiding framework to ensure gender is an integral part of implementation (BRS, n.d.). Baseline information was collected toward this end in 2017 (Gilligan & Sabater, 2017; IUCN, 2017b).
MDGs (2000): The efforts to mainstream gender equality across the development sector have also been significant in the past decades. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) marked a milestone at the global and national level with the creation of measurable and internationally agreed gender goals and indicators. However, these indicators were siloed, and gender considerations were not integrated throughout all the different goals.
SDGs (2015): Building on lessons learned while implementing the agreements made at the Earth Summit, as well as the MDGs, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, with its 17 SDGs, recognise that the natural world and its life-giving services must be urgently protected in order to fulfil the needs of nine billion people by 2050. Gender is a standalone SDG goal (#5) in addition to being a cross-cutting issue across the other 16 goals. (Sustainable Development Goals Fund, n.d.).
Sendai Framework (2015-2030): The Sendai Framework for Action for Disaster Risk Reduction calls for stronger women’s leadership and participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR). This recognition provides a new opportunity to strengthen the capacities of gender machineries, women’s organisations and women at regional, national and community levels to shape how DRR and climate change are implemented in the coming 15 years (UNISDR, n.d.).  

Note: Table adapted from Gender and environment statistics: unlocking information for action and measuring the SDGs ~

Follow us on Social Media

Get In Touch

For any inquiries please email

Open chat
To join our mailing list please visit; and for any further inquiries please write to us at [email protected]