Women call for studies of health impact of environmental degradation

13 October 2004

Leading women environmentalists today called for research into the affect of toxic chemicals on the health of women and girls and they urged governments to make funds available to associations of poor women for such environmental projects as water, sanitation and poverty alleviation schemes and ecosystem management.

Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme "Women as the Voice for the Environment (WAVE)," some 140 women representing 60 countries at the Global Women's Assembly on the Environment also recommended pinpointing the roles of women in the environmental recovery of war-torn zones.

The WAVE assembly, sponsored by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the New York-based Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), included environment ministers from Iran, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland and Sweden.

The manifesto, which will be given to governments attending UNEP's Governing Council in February 2005 for action, said, "Globalization, militarization, fundamentalism, and the market-driven economic model have undermined the achievement of the agreed goals."

It included expressions of similar deep concern over "the ever-widening gap between rich and poor," "unsustainable levels of production and consumption" and the "culture of fear and threat, with its many conflicts and increasing levels of violence and militarization."

The Network of Women Ministers for the Environment, chaired by Lena Sommestad of Sweden and Rejoice Madubafhasi of South Africa, drafted a separate declaration for presentation at the 2005 Governing Council meeting, which has as its theme gender equality and empowerment.

The WAVE assembly aimed to put women's issues at the centre of the global effort to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty and integrate them into the World Summit on Sustainable Development's Plan of Implementation.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said, "In the past, the role of women and their know-how has often been sidelined. I sincerely hope that our assembly signals an end to this gender apartheid. All too often women are treated like second-class citizens, with fewer rights and lower status than men. I hope we have now started a WAVE that will wash away the inequities of the past and bring women into the centre of environment and development issues."

Ms. Sommestad said the delegates had been inspired by the presence of Prof. Wangari Maathai, this year's Nobel Peace Laureate and Kenya's deputy environment minister, who addressed the assembly's opening ceremony.


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