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Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson’s speech for the Second Gender Day: Rio Conventions Pavilion (UNCCD COP 12)

Ankara, Turkey, Friday, 16 October 2015


Program Director
The Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, Ms Monique Barbut;
Honourable Minister of Environment and Tourism Mr Pohamba Shifeta;
Her Excellency the Ambassador of Finland to Turkey Ms Nina Vaskunlahti;
The UNCCD Drylands Ambassador, Ms Tarja Halonen;
UNCCD Focal Points from all the Regions;
Various speakers and moderators;
UNCCD Staff;
Representatives of different organisations and partners present here today;
Members of media;
Distinguished Guests

Ladies and gentleman

We are very pleased by the warm welcome and reception we have received here in the beautiful City of Ankara to attend this important global event. We would also like to expressour deepest condolences to the government and people of Turkey for the lives lost during the recent incident at the beginning of this week.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are gathered here as the global community to celebrate the second gender day. The goal of this important day is to discuss policy actions needed in order to enhance women empowerment to ensure that they contribute to poverty eradication and the reduction of the impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought related issues. 

As you are all aware, land is a vital natural capital for food and other ecosystem goods and services. It is even more so for the rural poor, especially women, who rely heavily on land as their most significant asset for the sustainence of their livelihoods and families. The World Bank further indicates that women play an essential role in the management of natural resources, including soil, water, forests and energy. They often have profound traditional and contemporary knowledge of the natural world around them. Allow me therefore to highlight certain elements that this gender day seeks to address.

Global assessments indicate that the percentage of total land area that is already degraded or being degraded has increased from 15% in 1991 to 24% in 2008. More than 20% of all cultivated areas, 30% of natural forests, and 25% of grasslands are also undergoing some degree of degradation. We are further informed by science that, each year an estimated 24 billion tons of fertile soil is lost due to erosion. As such, desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) directly affects 1.5 billion people around the world and has a disproportionate impact on women and children. We cannot continue business as usual.

Ladies and gentlemen, gender continues to be one of the world’s strongest markers for inequality. Such inequalities span all sectors and are equally pervasive in the environment sector. It is believed that men and women will be faced with different vulnerabilities to DLDD and climate change impacts. The different vulnerabilities largely stem from the existing inequalities such as, their roles and positions in society, access to resources and power relations. These may affect the ability to respond to the effects of DLDD and climate change. In spite of the major gains in addressing inequalities between men and women, there still remains enormous gender disparities and inequalities. Most of the challenges are faced by women in rural areas, who are still living in poverty with limited resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Women are one of the most vulnerable groups and bear major burdens resulting from DLDD and climate variability impacts. For instance, women have to walk long distances to draw water and collect firewood to sustain their families.

Ladies and gentlemen, with the rising population the demand for food, energy and water is expected to increase. Therefore, if we continue doing business as usual, by 2030, productive land will become scarce. This will exacerbate climate change, unsustainable land use, land degradation and biodiversity loss. These needs of the people of the world will not be met sustainably unless we preserve and restore the productivity of our land. Women should therefore be accommodated at all levels of policies and programmes to play their roles towards the desired solutions to the challenges we face.

Secondly, ladies and gentlemen, this dialogue should assist us to understand the actions we must take now in the context of land degradation neutrality to put us on this path. It is important that we should support the mainstreaming of gender issues especially focusing on women and children into considerations of the three Rio Conventions.

We should empower and enable women and the youths to play an active role in achieving the Land Degradation Neutrality target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which is aimed at combating desertification; restoring degraded lands and soils, including drought and floods in pursuit of a Land Degradation Neutral World. While gender explores the socio-economic position of women and men in relation to each other, empowerment of women is necessary where women are in a disadvantaged position in comparison to men in terms of their socio-economic status. The aim of empowering women is to close or narrow the existing gap between women and men through supporting women in various forms.

Ladies and gentlemen, while implementing the LDN target, we must also focus on Goal 5 of the SDGs which urges us to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources. We also need to look at goal 13 target for climate change, that is calling for mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and Small Island developing States, including its focus on women, youth and marginalized communities.

Ladies and gentlemen, awareness raising campaigns focusing on gender and land degradation issues are still lacking at all levels. Gender sensitive investments in addressing the conditions of degraded land should therefore not only contribute to achieving food security, poverty alleviation and sustainability; but should also contribute to improving the living conditions of women and children in affected areas to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality target. Thirdly, this gender day should generate ideas about the “Future We Want”. As we move towards the “future we want”, we need peace, security, respect for all and where all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality in a healthy environment. We should work together both at national and international level to protect the planet from further degradation. We must sustainably manage our land and the natural resources so that we can support the needs of present and future generations. We must all work towards a world that is free from poverty, hunger and diseases, where all life forms can thrive.

Communities (especially women groups) at a grassroots level have over the years deployed indigenous techniques and measures to respond to various environmental impacts. These groups therefore need to be up-scaled and empowered at all levels in order to build community resilience to the negative impacts of climate change, forest degradation and biodiversity loss.

In South africa, our blue print for socio-economic development i.e National Development Plan (NDP) identified five environmental sustainability key areas towards the 2030 vision, which are as follows:

  • Sustaining South Africa’s ecosystems and using natural resources efficiently;
  • Building sustainable communities;
  • Responding effectively to climate change through mitigation and adaptation;
  • Managing a just green economy transition; and
  • Enhancing governance systems and capacity.

Since 2005, we have been holding “Women in Environment Conferences” which laid a firm basis for the sector’s women and environment agenda. These conferences defined clear areas of action for government, civil society and business. The 2008 conference took a step further by to develop a structured Women and Environment forum for the country.

In addition, the national Women and Environment Forum established in 2010 provided a platform for women to share experiences in the environment sector representing Government spheres, private sector and organised business, civil society representatives in rural and urban environments, organised labour, and academia and research institutions. The forum further established ways to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women. Furthermore, in 2012, the Women and Environment conference focused on the reflection of 56 years of women united against unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Parallel to the evolution of environmental and sustainable development legislation, policies and strategies, the environment sector gradually focused its agenda on women empowerment through various programmes. It is from this end that the National Women and Environment Forum became the catalyst for the sector to lead the development of the Sector Gender Framework for the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality.

Through the gender framework, the sector reflects its commitments to take into account the principles of gender equality in its employment practices, policies and service delivery. The sector commits to take initiatives that aim at addressing the imbalances of the past and gender inequality regardless of race, religion, disability, or any other factor.


From what has already been highlighted, it is clear that women play an important role as producers of goods and services from the land in order to provide for their own families. That is why today we have a stand-alone SDG goal on empowering women and girls on achieving gender equality. As I conclude, my message to you ladies and gentlemen is that, never under estimate the power of women. Let us recognize their roles as they contribute towards economic and social significance of good land management, that contribute to economic growth, sustainable agriculture, food security and eradicating poverty.

I trust that everyone present here today will have fruitful discussions on these matters and that we will emerge from here with a clear strategy that will give impetus for greater action and progress towards our collective effort in the implementation of gender related SDGs.

I thank you.