Women are the key to a green and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

Around the world, women are leading efforts to adapt to and mitigate the causes of climate change, protect our planet’s biodiversity, and innovate sustainable solutions for the future. When women are empowered and have equal opportunities to contribute to sustainable development, it leads to concrete benefits for people and the planet.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) understands that tackling the world’s most pressing environmental challenges requires diverse skills and knowledge and innovative perspectives. As such, investing in women and supporting their leadership is central to the GEF mission.

Recognizing that a gender responsive approach is key to tackling the drivers of environmental degradation, the GEF has made gender mainstreaming a continued priority over the years. With the recently updated Policy on Gender Equality and collaboration across the GEF Partnership developing tools such as the Guidance on Gender Equality and the Online Course on Gender and the Environment, GEF projects and programs worldwide are investing in women to deliver greater environmental benefits at both local and global levels.

On this International Women’s Day, which celebrates the role of women in achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world, the GEF is highlighting five of our initiatives with the GEF Small Grants Program (SGP), where women are shaping a more equitable, sustainable future for us all.

In Costa Rica, rural women grow their own businesses

Beginning in 2016, the men in Río Jesús de Santiago, San Ramón Costa Rica involved themselves in an SGP initiative aimed at recovering degraded watersheds. Upon noticing the men in their community working toward sustainable land practices, a group of women asked themselves the question: “Why only men?”

Heimy Arguedas Madrigal, her mother Lidia María Madrigal Loria, and 21 other women of the community advocated for their own training in an ambitious project of organic food production and stingless-bee honey production. With the support of the GEF-UNDP program, the women of Río Jesús de Santiago de San Ramón formed their own association. Each member received training to maintain greenhouses, produce agro-free vegetables, and raise stingless honey bee populations.

Today, the initiative has reached a new generation of women. Sarah Morales Arguedas, Heimy’s 6-year-old girl, helps her grandmother select seeds and helps harvest vegetables. She scatters flower seeds near local streams, helping the pollinators thrive in their environment. Heimy herself believes that the women in her community have not only gained economic and political autonomy as a result of the experience, but also a greater passion for protecting the global environment.

Protecting ancestral culture in Colombia

Columbia is one of the world’s ‘megadiverse’ countries, hosting close to ten percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Like the rest of the world, Columbia’s biodiversity faces threats such as deforestation and climate change impacts. In indigenous and Afro-Columbian territories, such threats are amplified further by social disintegration and loss of traditional knowledge and practices.

The women of the Guapi municipality are concerned by the loss of sustainable practices, especially Azoteas, the agricultural farming of traditional medicinal and aromatic plants. These practices preserve the integrity of the environment and are the foundation of their meals, medicine, and identity. With support from GEF’s SGP, an all-women NGO worked to build evidence-based traditional medicine and local gastronomy systems in rooftop gardens. This project, which aimed to recover traditional practices, ultimately resulted in a women’s organization becoming instrumental in decision-making, community behavior, and sustainable land-planning.

Empowering fisherwomen in Turkey

Fisheries make up an important source of livelihood for local communities along the coast of Turkey. Because fishing has traditionally been viewed as a male domain, many of contributions made by women have gone unnoticed and undocumented in official statistics. Due to this invisibility, women were not consulted in small-scale fishery governance, nor was there information available on the challenges they faced in their line of work.

The Underwater Research Society, an SGP grantee partner, aimed to address issues of overfishing by establishing no-take fish zones with the active involvement of women. Building on this work, the Mediterranean Conservation Society received an SGP grant to map the numbers of women fishers, adequately respond to their needs, and ensure their inclusion in decision-making processes around sustainable small-scale fisheries in Turkey.

The impact of these efforts led to more than 120 women being trained in sustainable fisheries and 450 local fishing cooperatives shifting their traditional practices to recognize the work of the women, empower them, and give them voice in decision-making meetings.

Women leaders in Viet Nam address urban waste

With more than 20 million visitors per year, the Southeast Asian trading port city of Hoi An is left with the task of disposing of 27 thousand tons of solid waste every year. As a result of improper disposal of accumulating waste, the city’s land and streams became increasingly littered.

To address this issue, with support of the SGP, Hoi An’s Women’s Union created a long-term waste management plan that fosters the sustainable development of the city while preserving its cultural heritage. The project was not only successful in collecting, storing, and disposing of waste, but it gave work to a group of low-income women, strengthening the social fabric of the community.

Advocacy was a large component of this project, and proved to be critical in lasting change. A campaign on domestic waste management at local events, on the radio, and on television has reduced the amount of waste that ends up in landfills by more than 70%. Five years later, this project continues to deliver benefits to the residents and visitors to the city, while protecting our global environment.

Empowering women through solar powered herbal teas

Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, is home to unique wildlife and biodiversity, particularly endemic species. In an effort to protect native plant species, the GEF’s SGP supported a project to establish a medicinal plant nursery. The facility itself is run by women who sustainably harvest and use medicinal plants to produce herbal teas. Using traditional botanical knowledge, the women created their own brand called Grandma’s Secret. It is the first copyrighted Mauritian brand of local medicinal and herbal teas. Today, this women-led micro-enterprise produces 24 varieties of tea for national and international markets.

Due to the success of the initial project, there has been another grant from SGP to install a solar powered system in their plant nursery. The solar panels installed with the grant generate enough electricity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 tons annually. Thanks to the success of the project, many women have learned how to run effective media campaigns and scale up their initiatives on biodiversity protection and clean energy.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the world’s leading international institution investing in the joint management, care, and restoration of our planet.