While navigating the world’s challenges, the intersections between women’s struggles and environmental issues form a profound but often overlooked nexus. Today, we are honored to present an enlightening conversation with Edda Fernández Luiselli, a trailblazer in the realms of environmental advocacy and gender equality. For more than 18 years, she has held high-level positions in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico (SEMARNAT). From 2019 to 2023, Edda served as the Environmental Deputy Attorney for the Government of Mexico City. She is the current Senior Policy Adviser in Avaaz, a community of nearly 70 million members from every country and territory. Read more below to understand her insights.
1. Based on your experience, how do you see the intersectionality of women’s struggles and environmental challenges?
Environmental degradation impacts us all, but there is a differential intensity or hardship for women and girls especially in the rural areas, where direct dependency on natural resources is being translated into harder work to get food or water, which is becoming more scarce.
2. How does gender-based violence impact the engagement and participation of women in biodiversity conservation efforts?
In my personal opinion, gender-based violence impacts resolution. But women’s strength comes from survival instincts therefore, women’s resolution can be reborn and can be reborn even stronger. Only death can stop a woman that is fighting for her rights, and the rights of those she loves. The environment is not only plants and animals, it is the relationship between living things and people and people are part of the environment.
3. What role do traditional gender roles and power dynamics play in either exacerbating or mitigating gender-based violence in the context of biodiversity conservation projects?
Legal frameworks are based on traditional gender roles. Therefore, all public programmes are derived from or supported by such frameworks are designed for men in their role as heads of families. Land tenure for example. In far too many countries in the world, women are not able to even request land tenure, either because the procedure does not exist, they do not have official IDs or they require the permission of a male relative. Without the land tenure document in her name, a woman cannot access public or private funding for implementing conservation projects. This is a gender-based violation of human rights: the right to development, the right to water, the right to a clean environment etc.
4. Aside from advocating on international platforms and various seminars/webinars, how can social media aid all activists and allies fighting for women’s rights?
By making female environmental and rights defenders known to the public. Making them accessible to the general public by including them in the conversation. I do not believe that the general public cannot understand the correct language even if it is not “trendy”. Biodiversity is a word and has to be understood as much more than that. And environment defenders need to be known and understood in all their complexity.
5. How can we amplify the voices and agency of women within biodiversity conservation, recognizing and addressing their struggles, and ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making processes?
I think that to empower women in the UN negotiations arenas there are two needed elements: one that is enabling their full participation and the other is making such participation meaningful. Capacity building in all kinds of topics and abilities, from DSI to speech and debate, from knowing and understanding how the UN works to knowing and understanding how to make a plan work. Fortunately, women are more than capable of bringing the fiery touch that all of these need to jumpstart change.
6. What life lessons has your work taught you?
To be bold. And always open to looking for different routes.
7. What keeps your passion and fire alive for the work that you do?
My children, who are now grown men — exceptional, sensitive and loving men.
8. What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to a young person who wants to work in biodiversity conservation?
Know your technical basis so you really know what you are talking about and why you are defending it. That includes the human relationships with nature.
About Edda Fernández Luiselli
Edda Fernández Luiselli graduated as a biologist from the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and has since gained extensive experience in environmental and sustainable development issues. For more than 18 years, she has held high-level positions in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico (SEMARNAT). During her stay in SEMARNAT, she was in charge of the national and international biodiversity, biosafety and genetic resources agenda; as well as issues related to the management of ecosystems and natural resources, including forests, coastal and marine ecosystems, water and soil. Her work was centred on developing public policies on biodiversity, biosafety, climate change, air quality, comprehensive waste management, sustainable production and consumption, food loss and waste. From 2019 to 2023, Edda served as the Environmental Deputy Attorney for the Government of Mexico City. She is currently acting as Senior Policy Adviser in Avaaz, a community of nearly 70 million members from every country and territory.