The global environment is one that has continued to suffer severally and severely from various forms of degradation especially due to rapid industrialization. General living and working experiences unveils the reality of the appalling and deteriorating conditions of the environment on one hand. On the other hand, I have witnessed over the years, the disadvantages women suffer due to socially defined constraints that undermine their role in community development. It remains worrisome that women are often sidelined when decisions are taken on the very issues that most impact on their lives.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out global benchmarks on gender equality, poverty eradication and environmental sustainability. However, current trends have so far neglected to seriously address the linkages between these areas. I believe there is a strong link between empowering women and sustaining the environment; and also that environmental sustainability is a strong tool for poverty eradication. Having understudied these linkages, I established a platform upon which women would be empowered through natural resource management. The Environmental Management and Protection Network (EMPRONET) was established with a goal to promote constructive environmental practices. As EMPRONET evolved, I continued to witness how much majority of women (especially at the grassroots) are marginalized and discriminated against. They are seen more as victims of than as positive agents of change. In both rural and urban areas of much of the world, Women and children (especially the girl child) often do the hard work of collecting and carrying wood for fuel and collecting water. In the struggle for life, they play these salient roles spending valuable time. These prevent them from taking part in more socially valued activities such as getting an education and or other necessary/ financially productive work.
In the course of promoting constructive environmental practices through EMRPONET, I recognized the potential for women to improve their social, economic and political status through developing and managing natural resources. Thus, the organization’s activities began to centre around environmental issues that have a direct bearing on the lives of women. Women are untapped resources as their responsibilities and roles in households and communities and as stewards of natural resources position them well to develop strategies for adapting to changing environmental realities. As a measure of re-strategizing to meet women’s expectations, EMPRONET was translated into the Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE). Through WISE, I explore and create opportunities for impoverished women to learn skills and develop opportunities in Environmental Management and Protection. I realize that when people’s daily needs are met, they are better able to think about the future including how to care for the environment. This is reflective of the World Bank’s definition of empowerment which says that empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform choices into desired actions and outcomes. WISE promotes women’s participation in environmental management and protection, projects people oriented approaches to environmental management. As I move to be an effective change agent of environmental sustainability, I will continue to work to organize, advocate for and provide opportunities for women to thrive.