Environment and Gender Index Includes Women’s Property Rights

The 2014 theme for International Women’s Day is “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” There is a significant opening in the post-2015 global development and environment agenda for strengthening women’s property rights to move towards more broad-based economic growth. To fill that gap, the Environment and Gender Index (EGI) was launched by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at the UN Climate Change Talk’s first Gender Day held in Warsaw, Poland in November 2013. The index is based on gender equality and women’s empowerment data in the environmental arena and includes national government performance on women’s property rights.

The EGI is the first index of its kind. Seventy-two countries have been rated in six different categories: livelihoods; gender-based rights and participation; governance; gender-based education and assets; ecosystem; and country-reported activities. Women’s property rights are an indicator in two of these six EGI categories: governance, and gender-based education and assets. Host country governments, such as Mozambique–the first to produce a national climate change and gender action plan–are keen to use the EGI results to guide policy work on gender equality and environmental protection.

For women, property rights are not simply important for accessing food and natural resources for family livelihoods, but are also stepping stones to obtain financial capital, to effectively engage in natural resource decision-making, and to enhance broader political participation. The strength and security of women’s property rights constitute a central asset that enables multidimensional empowerment. Despite women being active in household farming and forest use, their formal rights to land and forests are often low and their customary rights often depend upon permission from men. Tracking improvements to women’s property rights is therefore critical for understanding how progress is made. The EGI’s first report identified discrepancies between legal rights and the reality on the ground in the areas of inheritance, property, income, and finances.

The EGI enables donors, civil society, and development practitioners to understand the multiple dimensions of the intersection between gender and the environment. With this new tool, we are able to assess, for example, to what extent governments are supporting the secure and equitable distribution of women’s property rights. While the EGI highlights the considerable paucity of gender-disaggregated data to date, it provides strong insight into women’s empowerment, political rights, decision-making capacities, and livelihood conditions. It is an approach that facilitates both global and regional comparisons as well as identifies individual country strengths and weaknesses.

As Lorena Aguilar (Global Senior Gender Advisor for the IUCN) explained at the Warsaw meeting: “As an independent tool outside the UN system to measure government performance, the EGI can help policymakers and civil society evaluate and set new benchmarks for government progress. The ability to compare countries and regions establishes a basis for tracking changes in performance over time, and complements existing monitoring and evaluation tools and assessments.” More broadly, the index will facilitate sharing and learning so as to design better policies and implementation strategies. In order to help make the EGI more directly useful to governments and non-governmental organizations, there are plans afoot to both develop new data sets to specifically help with improving women’s participation in environmental decision-making, as well as to track progress and good practices.

Learn more about the Environment and Gender Index.