UNECE is committed to gender equality and aligns its work with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Gender equality and the related Sustainable Development Goals are recognized both as goals in themselves and as a way of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. To ensure equal participation of male and female representatives in meetings, the UNECE Environment Division encourages member States to propose gender-balanced nomination of delegates in all its meetings. The UNECE Gender Action Plan guides all UNECE subprogrammes, including the Environment subprogramme. The Environment Division regularly reports on the implementation of activities in the current year as part of the United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The gender dimension is incorporated into several programmes under the Environment Division. While promoting and raising awareness of the importance of taking gender perspectives into account is a key objective, many programmes go well beyond awareness-raising and are mainstreaming gender issues in the development of environmental policies.
The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) and it Protocol on Water and Health
The 1999 UNECE/World Health Organization Protocol on Water and Health places specific emphasis on equitable access to water and sanitation.
Gender aspects are an important dimension of equitable access. For instance, the impact of lack of access to clean water and sanitation may be disproportionate on women. Women and girls have differentiated needs that must be considered when devising and implementing water, sanitation and health measures. Women also face challenges to effective participation in decision-making processes: an important challenge since the involvement of women – with their special knowledge of resource management and the environment – can bring many benefits to water, sanitation and health measures.
Under this area of work, Parties to the Protocol have developed the Equitable Access Score-card. This is an analytical self-evaluation tool to help countries to identify problems in equitable access to water and sanitation and to come up with solutions to improve such access. Self-assessments of equitable access to water and sanitation have been completed in eight countries (Armenia, France, Hungary, North Macedonia, Portugal, the Republic of Moldova, Spain and Ukraine) and are ongoing in a further three (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Serbia).
In many countries, the application of The Equitable Access Score-card revealed gender disparities in access to sanitation facilities, especially in schools, and allowed Governments and stakeholders to develop concrete measures to improve problematic areas. For example, North Macedonia will work to improve menstrual hygiene management facilities in educational institutions, as part of Equitable Access Action Plans.
The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention)
Within the Air Convention, the majority of officers, national representatives and participants in official meetings are women. Women chair four out of five official bodies of the Convention and 50 out of 75 national focal points for the Convention are women. There is a similar situation for experts from countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, notably those who are involved with capacity-building and awareness-raising activities. The high level of representation of women in Convention bodies and activities is continually encouraged. UNECE encourages member States to propose gender-balanced nominations of candidates to the upcoming elections of officers (two-year terms of office) to be decided by the Convention bodies in the second half of 2020.
The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs)
Women play a vital role in environmental management and development, and gender equality and women’s empowerment are key to securing environmental democracy. However, access to participation, information and justice in environmental issues can be limited or absent for women.
By establishing that sustainable development can be achieved only through inclusive public participation, the Aarhus Convention promotes without discrimination the rights of every person with regard to access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
All activities under the Aarhus Convention and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) take gender aspects into consideration. The Work Programmes of the Aarhus Convention and PRTR for the years 2018-2021 provide equal opportunities for the participation of women and men. Currently, women chair the main decision-making bodies under the Convention and the Protocol.
Education for Sustainable Development
UNECE Environment also works to promote gender within policymaking. The 2005 UNECE Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development stresses the importance of gender equity for sustainable development and identifies gender equity as a key theme of education for sustainable development.
The Steering Committee on Education for Sustainable Development gathers good practices and success stories related to gender equality in the education sector, organizes discussions to share experiences and achievements, and disseminates good practices regarding gender equality. Gender equality is also addressed during capacity-building activities to implement the Strategy.
Environmental performance reviews
For over 20 years, the UNECE has carried out the environmental performance review programme. The reviews analyse policies on air protection, water and waste management and conservation of biodiversity, and provide recommendations on the areas to be improved. They also help to integrate environmental policies into sector-specific policies such as those in agriculture, energy, transport and health.
Gender issues are addressed in the environmental performance reviews, as a part of which the expert teams consider those aspects important for the countries reviewed. As of 2020, the third environmental performance reviews of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are the most comprehensive in terms of gender mainstreaming.