1620 h. "Market and laundry in Flanders". Jan Brueghel el Viejo y Joost de Momper II © Museo Nacional del Prado

Women and sustainability

Knowledge and management of the environment are processes in continuous readjustment, carried out by women and men either together or exclusively, in biocultural surroundings, which are very diverse and are modified by the gender and class relationships ruling over each population and moment in history.

Women’s lives have been linked to the management of natural resources to satisfy family and community needs, identifying, collecting and transforming aspects of biocultural diversity connected to feeding, health, energy, clothing, decoration and tools. The temporary transformation of this management, its relationship with poverty, and its consequences in the 21st century are essential aspects of sustainability, which have been only partially studied and scarcely disseminated.

For generations, women and men have accumulated an environmental and social wisdom, which has allowed them to preserve ecological processes and the systems for supporting life. The abandoning of extensive rural areas and the concentration of population in large urban centres are associated with the rapid rise of environmental problems, in view of the break with direct contact with nature, the reduction in biological and cultural diversity, the erosion of land, the destruction of the cultural landscape and the loss of identity heritage.

If we are to make political, social and economic decisions, it is essential to visualise this reality in rural and urban areas, to quantify its costs, to investigate its variability in time and space, and to know the differential implication for women and men in ecosystemic services. Furthermore, comparing current situations in the least privileged countries with those previously undergone by the richest countries (for example, depopulation of the rural world) and vice-versa helps to make those decisions and form public opinion.

During the last decades of the 20th century an eco-feminist approach to environmental sustainability was developed, which encompasses very different schools of thought around a common idea: the environmental crisis cannot be tackled without a gender perspective.