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Deputy Minster Ms Barbara Thomson’s speech at the 9th Women in Environment Indaba

23 August 2018

Good Morning

It is heartening to see so many wonderful women gathered here today to participate in an indaba about the role women can play in the environment in South Africa.

Gender equality is of great importance to all South Africans.  Not only is it entrenched in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, but it also tops the development agenda of the ruling party and government.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Africa has always been a strong promoter for the inclusion of women voices in every aspect of sustainable development. This commitment is reflected in our country’s National Strategy towards Gender Mainstreaming in the Environment Sector. The purpose of this strategy is to provide a framework for gender mainstreaming in the environment sector by ensuring that initiatives in the sector are inclusive and promote meaningful participation of women.

The Strategy outlines, in the form of a Toolkit and an Action Plan, how the sector can, and should, entrench values of gender mainstreaming and gender equality within the running of its environmental programmes. These include Climate Change, Biodiversity Management, Waste Management, Air Quality Management, Oceans and Coasts Management, and the Green Economy to ensure equal access and participation in the sector by both men and women.

One of the priorities that needs to be implemented to ensure there is gender mainstreaming within the environment sector is the education and awareness, which includes the transfer of skills and knowledge, the development of mentorship programmes and the forging of partnerships and networking programmes to increase the ability of women to operate within the environmental sector. There is also a need to integrate an environment element into school curricula – not only as an educational tool in a world where climate change is one of our most pressing challenges, but also as a means of lighting the flame of interest amongst those young girls who would want to become meteorologists, biologists, botanists, scientists or even rangers or waste entrepreneurs.  

A second priority within the Strategy is creating empowerment programmes that start with capacity development and eventually result in tangible projects at grassroots level. It is very important that provincial and local government are the key drivers of this, although partnerships are important to ensuring added success of initiatives to draw women into the environmental sector.  This is linked to the third priority of creating and ensuring access to financial assistance and technological advances for women wanting to enter the sector, and for those wanting to expand their role. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we all know, strategies are merely words on paper until concrete action is taken to implement them.

It is therefore important that this dialogue looks at concrete actions to ensure women play the important role they are meant to in ensuring we leave a world for our children that is not harmful to their health and well-being.  In particular, we are called upon to identify the opportunities and challenges that exist in the current development context.

We are all well aware that South Africa is faced with many challenges, most of which have a gender dimension. These need to be addressed if the country is to achieve our goal of total Gender equality.

Allow me to highlight just a few:

  • Poverty is a major problem for women in South Africa. The systematic and socially-engineered location of women in rural areas, and the underdevelopment of infrastructure in these areas, has been directly responsible for the poor conditions under which the majority of South Africa’s women live.
  • HIV/AIDS is a very serious problem in South Africa. It affects women disproportionately to men. The power imbalances between women and men in interpersonal relations contribute to this growing pandemic.
  • Violence against women remains a serious problem in South African society. The high incidence of rape, as well as other forms of physical and psychological abuse of women and girls, are evidence of this.

Access to basic needs such as education, housing, welfare and water has also been influenced by unequal gender relations.  While access to basic resources such as water and sanitation has improved since 1994, the lack of infrastructure in the rural areas still acts as a barrier for women to gain easy access to basic resources.

Programme Director,

We also know that while climate change and natural disasters affect everyone, women and girls bear the heaviest burden. As women are generally the providers of food, water, and fuel for families, changes in the climate and environment impact mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughers directly.

Addressing these challenges not only calls for targeted, gender-focused programmes, but also requires that all development efforts take the experiences, needs, and contributions of women into account. Herein lies a number of opportunities, and our gender mainstreaming strategy provides us with the tool to do just that. 

The implementation of the Strategy commenced in the 2017/18 financial year through the first annual action plan, as well as through the Women in Environment flagship programme structured in all provinces and coordinated by the Provincial Departments of Environmental Affairs. The format of the programme is such that each year there are commitments and outcomes from the annual conferences that set the agenda for what will be implemented the following year in order to ensure continual improvement of the implementation of the programme, as well as sustainability of the projects at grass roots level.

Chief among the outcomes of the 8th Women in Environment Conference   held in KwaZulu-Natal last year was the need to establish provincial Women in Environment fora where women can talk about and share experiences around the impacts of climate change, and help identify areas where there is a lack of services to women.   

These discussions and interactions must also include traditional healers who remain an untapped resource of traditional knowledge.  Their involvement can be used to build a repository of information to strengthen the participation of women in economic development opportunities in the biodiversity and wildlife economy sectors.

In this regard, it is useful to mention that the 3rd Biodiversity Economy Indaba was hosted by the Department earlier this year under the theme Entrepreneurs meet investors, for a thriving and inclusive biodiversity economy".

The Indaba had brought together multiple and diverse stakeholders in the biodiversity economy, including the hunting and game farming sectors and bioprospecting, natural products and biotrade industries with the aim of matching the various stockholders with aspirant investors and related markets within and outside South Africa.

The biodiversity economy, which is an important contributor to job creation, has shown a constant annual growth of six percent. Furthermore, much work has already gone into positioning the biodiversity sector to deliver a thriving and inclusive wildlife economy for the benefit of all South Africans.  Wildlife ranching, the game meat trade and hunting, to name a few activities, are not the exclusive domain of men.  This is a sector where women can play an important role, not only in wildlife ranching, but also in ecotourism initiatives.

The biodiversity economy development initiative provides exciting prospects for women in particular.  It is a sector in which women can play a meaningful role given your traditional knowledge in, for example, using plants and herbs to cure ailments suffered by family members.  It is this knowledge that can be utilized to develop, for instance, a cosmetic or medicinal product, and to market it overseas.   I will leave it here, because in terms of the programme we will have a presentation on provincial biodiversity economy initiatives and I trust that through your deliberations on the presentation you will emerge with concrete plans that will ensure women benefit from the biodiversity economy.

A second important outcome of last year’s dialogue was the need for the Department to implement as a matter of urgency the next step of the strategy – this is the sourcing of funding to implement the strategy and to support projects through the Provincial Fora. This includes exploring and extending partnerships to other government departments in the sector to widen the scope and reach of the Strategy.

Our task today is clear. We need to take stock of where we are in terms of implementation of the strategy. This will require an honest assessment of our achievements as well as areas where we have fallen short. It is only through such honest reflection that we will be able to gauge the true state of gender equality in the sector and arrive at a common understanding of what needs to be done to take implementation of the Strategy further.

Thank you.

For media queries contact:

Albi Modise

Cell: 083 490 2871


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