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Environment sector gender strategy

Introduction and background

South Africa’s definition of and goals towards achieving gender equality are guided by a vision of human rights which incorporates acceptance of equal and inalienable rights of all women and men. This ideal is a fundamental tenet under the Bill of Rights of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. It emerged from a long period of struggle for a democratic society that respects and promotes the rights of all its citizens irrespective of race, gender, class, age, disability, etc. (Bill of Rights, Sections 9.1 to 9.4).

The conception of such an ideal emerged from people whose history is steeped in institutional racism where rights, life chances and the distribution of goods and services were predicated along racial lines. More importantly, respect for the dignity of individuals was determined by the colour of their skin and, further within the various racial groupings, by their gender designation. The socio-cultural dictates of all groups defined women to be inferior to men and as such assigned to them the position of minors in both the public and private spheres of life. In the private sphere, women were less likely to lead in decision-making. In most interpersonal relationships men had more power. This historical legacy of patriarchy influenced essential informal and formal human relationships with a marked impact at the workplace.

This National Gender Policy Framework whose implementation is led and coordinated within the Ministry of Women establishes guidelines for South Africa as a nation to take action to remedy the historical legacy by defining new terms of reference for interacting with each other in both the private and public spheres, and by proposing and recommending an institutional framework that facilitates equal access to goods and services for both women and men. The Framework intends to ensure that gender issues are addressed at the development stages of all decision making processes as opposed to resigning such issues as after thoughts, as it has been the norm. It attempts to ensure that the process of achieving Gender equality is at the very centre of the transformation process in South Africa within all the structures, institutions, policies, procedures, practices and programs of government, its agencies and parastatals, civil society and the private sector.

There are also a number of statutory laws that move beyond equality and take up issues that mainly affect women: These include the Domestic Violence Act, the Maintenance Act (No. 99 of 1998) with respective regulations, amongst others. It is within this rich context that the Environment Sector finds a mandate to support the gender equity issue to ensure that practical measures are taken in implementing the objectives of the Sector Gender Framework so that women may feel free.

It has become evident that sustainable development and economic growth are possible only through improving the economic, social, political, legal and cultural status of women. It is from this end that the National Women and Environment Forum became the catalyst and trigger for the DEA to lead the development of the Sector Framework for the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality (‘the Sector Gender Framework’).

What is gender equality and gender mainstreaming?

Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.

Gender mainstreaming is the public policy of assessing the different implications for women and men of any planned policy action, including legislation and programmes, in all areas and levels, with the aim of achieving gender equality. The concept of gender mainstreaming was first proposed at the 1985 Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya. The idea has been developed in the United Nations development community.

Gender mainstreaming "involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities".

According to the Council of Europe definition: "Gender mainstreaming is the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making."[82]

An integrated gender mainstreaming approach is “the attempt to form alliances and common platforms that bring together the power of faith and gender-equality aspirations to advance human rights.” [149] For example, “in Azerbaijan, UNFPA conducted a study on gender equality by comparing the text of the Convention on the

Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women with some widely recognized Islamic references and resources. The results reflect the parallels between the convention and many tenets of Islamic scripture and practice. The study showcased specific issues, including VAW, child marriage, respect for the dignity of women, and equality in the economic and political participation of women. The study was later used to produce training materials geared towards sensitising religious leaders.


Development of a gender strategy

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) took a decision during 2013/ 2014 Financial Year to develop a gender strategy to be compliant to provisions of the Sector Gender Framework and the strategy, the Constitution (Act No. 108 of 1996), Women’s Charter for Effective Equality, 1994, the National Framework for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality, 2000 and the Strategic Framework for Gender Equality within the Public Service, 2006. Further to this commitment, the DEA commits itself to take into account principles of gender equality in its employment practices, policies and service delivery. The Department has further committed to take initiatives that aim at addressing the imbalances of the past and gender inequality regardless of race, religion, disability, etc.

DEA established the National Women and Environment Forum in 2010, which provided a platform for women to share experiences in the environment sector representing government spheres, private sector and organised business, civil society representatives in rural and urban environments, organised labour, and academia and research institutions. The Forum is one of the flagship programmes which have positioned the department as a champion of advancing women’s economic empowerment and participation, as well as ensuring that women owned enterprises are integrated into the mainstream economic activity in South Africa. Toward the development of the Strategy the Department has developed the gender frameworkliterature review, and diagnostic report.

In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive of all relevant stakeholders and all issues relevant to gender mainstreaming and women empowerment issues, a stakeholder engagement process was developed to act as a platform for women to share experiences and best practices; exchange knowledge, skills and expertise; training and capacity building; explore networking and leadership opportunities. The first of these engagements was a national workshop held on 28 July 2015 and a National Women in Environment Conference was held on 17 to 18 August 2015.

The stakeholder engagements were aimed to facilitate the sharing of information and experiences around gender mainstreaming issues within the sector and to gain understand of the arising issues related to the inclusion of women participation within the decision making processes in the sector. The main objectives of these engagements were to consult and agree on the structure and content to be included in the Strategy, and prioritise gender mainstreaming related issues within the environment sector to be addressed therein. The report presents the outcomes; experiences and resolutions from the stakeholder consultations is in place.


The vision and objectives of the strategy


The development of a structured Framework and Strategy for women empowerment that will guide, support, facilitate and promote gender equality, thereby creating a platform to exchange and deepen the knowledge base of the sector.


  • To mainstream gender into environmental policies and programmes to assess the effect of women on environmental policies and to integrate further gender equality and environmental consideration into their work;
  • To strengthen women’s, including young women, leadership and cooperation in the environment sector;
  • To identify opportunities for integration of gender considerations that will ensure environmental sustainability in the respective programmes and initiatives;
  • To ensure active engagement and advice on environmental sector policy development matters to ensure consideration of gender issues;
  • To facilitate partnerships and/or sponsorships from high impact organisations on women programmes;
  • To guide the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of the medium-term implementation strategy; and
  • To ensure compliance with the gender Equality Framework for the public service.


Programmes that empower women

  • Working for Water: The programme is globally recognised as one of the most outstanding environmental conservation initiatives on the continent. It enjoys sustained political support for its job creation efforts and the fight against poverty. WfW considers the development of people as an essential element of environmental conservation.
  • Short-term contract jobs created through the clearing activities are undertaken, with the emphasis on endeavouring to recruit women (the target is 60%), youth (20%) and disabled (5%). Creating an enabling environment for skills training, it is investing in the development of communities wherever it works. Implementing HIV and Aids projects and other socio- development initiatives are important objectives. Since its inception in 1995, the programme has cleared more than one million hectares of invasive alien plants providing jobs and training to approximately 20 000 people from among the most marginalized sectors of society per annum. Of these, 52% are women.
  • Working for Land (WfL) project: Working for Land in partnership with Land care Programme, communal farmers and community leaders to prevent and continuously control natural resources so as to mitigate bush encroachment/thickening and loss of top soil. This would create employment opportunities and socio-economic benefits for the local residents and thus making the necessary contribution to the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The Special Public Works Programme includes the targets of 60% women, 20% youth and 2% disability.
  • Working for Wetlands: The programme is implemented by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) on behalf of the departments of Environmental Affairs (DEA); Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Water Affairs (DWA). It forms part of the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme, which seeks to draw unemployed people into the productive sector of the economy.
  • Working on Fire (WoF): The project was launched in September 2003 as part of the South African Government's initiative to create jobs and to alleviate poverty. Today WoF employs more than 5000 young men and women who have been fully trained as veld and forest fire fighters and are stationed in more than 200 teams throughout South Africa. WoF addresses the prevention and control of wild land fires to enhance the sustainability and protection of life, poverty and the environment through the implementation of Integrated Fire Management (IFM) practices 85% of whom are youth, 37% are women (the highest level in any comparable fire service in the world).

There are other programmes that involve women and the environment to name some like; Rhino Dialogues South AfricaGreen CarsGreen FundClimate Action Now, as well as donor funded projects. The socio-economic development of any country leans strongly on the need to conserve its natural resources and to this regard South Africa has been working towards bolstering this sector and ensuring our natural resources are seen as a scarce and therefore valuable resource for development.


  • Strategy toward gender mainstreaming in the Environment Sector 2016 - 2021 [PDF - 1.86MB kb] The Strategy outlines the following key strategies that will assist the sector implementing the Gender Action Plan: Policy Formulation; Institutional Support; Programme Management; Resource Mobilisation; Communication Management; Internal Transformation; Economic Transformation; Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting; Capacity Building; Advocacyand Awareness Raising; and Research and Evidence.
  • Sector Gender Framework [PDF - 287.7 kb] outlines critical areas that required ensuring the facilitation and achievement of the objectives of the Framework document in accordance with key government legislation and international best practice. The sector gender framework development enabled us to highlight the gender empowerment and equality progress made thus far in response to the policy imperatives. The framework further outlined key issues for consideration towards the development of the sector gender strategy that will have an action plan that includes a component of monitoring and evaluation.
  • Sector Gender Literature Review [PDF - 208.44 kb] reflect the Literature Review conducted Nationally, Regionally and Internationally from the various South African Public Service documents, and international documents reflecting interventions and challenges identified in order to address, improve and promote gender mainstreaming within the Environment sector.
  • Sector Gender Diagnostic Report [PDF- 933.29 kb] seeks to highlights the progress made thus far in the sector to respond to the constitutional mandate and the National Gender Policy imperatives as well as outline key issues for consideration towards the development of the sector gender Strategy that will implement the sector gender imperatives outlined in the Framework document thereby giving effect to the constitutional mandate.



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