Feminist Environmental Policies: Our policy advocacy at the UN Environment Assembly UNEA6

Key words: UNEP, UNEA, Environment, Health, Chemicals, Waste, Plastics, Gender, Women, Kenya, Ukraine, UN, Geoengineering, Conflicts, Feminist, Nairobi, Bratislava, Gaza, Israel, Sudan, Asbestos, Pesticides

4 March 2024, Nairobi 

A total of 7000 delegates from 182 United Nations Member States and civil society, including WECF and other ecofeminist partners, came to Nairobi for 2 weeks of negotiations on global environmental challenges at the 6th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA6) end of February 2024.

The results are mixed. Despite 15 resolutions adopted in consensus by all Member States, the UNEA6 outcomes are too timid in view of the enormity of the three global crises of Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss and Chemical Pollution. However, without the active participation of the women, feminist and other civil society groups, the results would have been even weaker, so we hereby provide a summary of the positive actions in which we were engaged at UNEA6.

Negotiating UNEA resolutions

The governments of the world were splitting hairs on issues of great concern for humanity, for human rights, for gender equality. They negotiated about severe pollution and destruction from armed conflict, and on finally stopping double-standards of selling toxic pesticides whilst already long-forbidden in the country of production. They negotiated about climate justice (rejected) and circular economy (rejected) and on ‘sustainable’ minerals and mining. And they negotiated on solar geoengineering’ technologies that can completely disrupt rain and drought patterns around the world. Each of these topics has direct impacts on the lives of women in all their diversity. Normatively, some of these negotiations, if successful, could contribute to a wellbeing gender-just society. They must concern us as feminists!

Photo WMG: Dalia Marquez speaking for the Women’s Major Group at UNEA6

Ecofeminists at the table 

As ecofeminist organisations, we coordinate through the ‘Women’s Major Group’ at UNEP. The nine ‘Major Groups and Stakeholder’ groups are recognized participants in the negotiation process, and we have a seat at the table, allowing us to state our priorities to the governments. For example, we spoke up strongly to adopt the resolution to do away with Highly Hazardous Pesticides, especially because women farmers are often least protected from exposure to these carcinogenic, neuro- and reprotoxic and hormone disrupting chemicals, that often destroys their health, as well as that of their children. We advocated for references to women’s rights and gender equality to be added to the resolutions on water, climate justice (rejected), highly hazardous pesticides and chemicals and waste. Unfortunately a number of countries, the usual suspects, kept deleting references to human rights and gender equality. It is a continued struggle. However, despite the deletions, we congratulate Ethiopia and the African Group of countries, that their resolution against highly hazardous pesticides has been adopted and will lead to concrete next steps as part of the Global Framework on Chemicals!

Photo WMG, Natasha Dokovska: Rabeb Aloui urging governments to support action to end Highly Hazardous Pesticides during resolution negotiations, and members of the Women’s Major Group presenting the ‘color campaign’ around key demands including halting toxic pesticides.

Circularity yes! But not a toxic cycle!

Contributing to the negotiations on the ‘circular economy’, ‘chemicals & wates’ and ‘minerals & mining’ we reminded governments that indeed, the linear economy is obsolete, but that toxic chemicals should not be continuously ‘recycled’, see press statement.  With our Kenyan partners Centre for Environmental Justice and Development (CEJAD) and HBS Kenya we invited policy makers to our event on good gender-just practices for reducing plastic pollution. Dorothee Adhiambo of CEJAD presented the laboratory tests of toys and women’s beauty projects made from recycled plastics, that showed very high levels of toxic chemicals. We warned: microplastics are now found in every human placenta tested (Guardian 2024). We also supported the Trade Unions push to include the aim to finally halt the use of chrysotile asbestos, highly toxic that kills more than 200,000 people each year, in the negotiated text, but producer countries such as the Russian Federation blocked its addition. See the UNEP statement on asbestos here.

Photo WMG: Event organised by CEJAD, WECF and HBS Kenya on good gender-practices

Gender and plastics

In our 2nd side event “Plastics Poison and Women’s Health” co-hosted with the Women’s Major Group, Rebecca Heuvelmans of WECF, presented key demands. We know that women and girls in all their diversity are impacted differently by the chemicals of concern in plastics and exposed to them in different ways. For example, through their consumption patterns and their work in formal and informal sectors like the textile industry or as waste pickers. Furthermore, as plastic is predominantly made from fossil fuels, they are a major contributor to the climate crisis – which yet again is affecting women and girls disproportionately. Thankfully there are amazing female entrepreneurs providing alternatives to plastic products, like for example Anita Shah from ‘Green Stem’ Kenya – whom you might have seen in our documentary Tackling Toxics – who produces thousands of alternatives to single-use plastic food packaging and utensils. It is high time that we invest in these sorts of solutions and stay clear from dangerous distractions such as plastic recycling, says Rebecca Heuvelmans. But some governments were resisting stronger agreements to eco-design products to allow the reuse of strategic resources. The resolution on circular economy was rejected, but the chemicals and waste resolution was luckily adopted.

Photo WMG: Rebecca Heuvelmans speaking at the WMG event at UNEA6

Solar Radiation Modification, WTF?

On the issue of ‘solar radiation modification’ WECF was the focal point for the Women’s Major Group, and we met with delegates from the EU, Latin America and with UNEP’s chief scientist to express our great concern that by agreeing on a ‘watered down’ resolution, this would only open the door to more dangerous field-trials and more millions of investments going into this ‘false climate solution’, instead of focussing on real climate solutions that reduce green-house-gas emissions. In the end it is best that the resolution was not adopted. See the excellent analysis by ETC-group “a #SolarGeoengineering Trojan horse at #UNEA6: A controversial proposal was shut down by Global South countries and broad civil society resistance”.

Environment and Armed Conflict

Armed conflicts are on the increase, and this year is particularly horrible with the ongoing wars and armed conflicts in Gaza-Israel, Ukraine, Sudan and many other countries. Terrible destruction of entire regions that are of historic scale; killing of civilians including women and children, but also contaminating water, soil and air with toxins. We followed closely the negotiations of the draft resolution by Ukraine on armed conflict and environmental reconstruction, writing letters of support with the other Major groups, and organising a solidarity action with the peoples living in armed-conflict regions. We invited participants from Palestine, Ukraine and Sudan to speak at the opening of the global forum that WECF co-organised, to share their desolation and demands, see ENB report. Even though weakened, we welcome the adoption by consensus of the Ukraine resolution, see here. See also our longer analysis here.

Photos UNEP & ENB-IISD: Solidarity Action for Ukraine, Palestine, Sudan and other peoples facing war and environmental destruction

Global Major Group and Stakeholder Forum

More than 400 civil society representatives participated in the Global Major Groups and Stakeholder Forum (GMGSF) at UNEA6, organised by EEB with support of WECF and our partners  JHR from North Macedonia. Working throughout 2 days, the participants prepared and presented their recommendations to the UN Member States, including from the Women’s Major Group, see the global statement.

Consultation by UN on Gender & Toxics

As part of the GMGSF, we also co-organised a consultation with UN special rapporteur, Marco Orelanna, on Gender & Toxics to be presented to Heads of States during the UN General Assembly in 2024. If you want to provide written input on how chemicals are negatively impacting the rights and wellbeing of women in their diversity, please submit your statement before 29th of March 2024 to the Human Rights office here.

Photos ENB-IISD: Consultation with UN special rapporteur Marcos Orellana, facilitated by Sascha Gabizon WECF, on the GA report regarding Gender & Toxics, during the Global Major Groups and Stakeholder Forum

Regional advocacy statement

Prior to UNEA6, we had already co-organised with the EEB and JHR, a regional civil society forum in Bratislava, with 50 participants from the European and Central Asian region, to prepare our regional recommendations. We focussed on six areas, 1) Zero Pollution for a Healthy 2) Environment, Water Security and Resilience 3) implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework 4) Sustainable Raw Material Use 5) Sustainable food systems and nutrient (re)use and 6) Climate-altering technologies including solar geo-engineering. We discussed our recommendations (Regional Statement) for UNEA6, with its vice-president Norbert Kurilla of Slovakia.

Photo EEB: Civil society participants from 30+ countries at the European Regional Major Groups and Stakeholders, Bratislava November 2023, in preparation of UNEA6, co-organised by WECF with EEB and JHR.

Engaging with decision makers

Presenting our priorities with decision makers is a main objective, and we met, together with the Women’s Major Group, with numerous decision makers, such as the Minister of Environment of Belgium, holding the Presidency of the European Commission, but also the Minister of Environment of Colombia, and the President of the General Assembly, as UNEA 6 will contribute to the UN Summit Of The Future scheduled for September 2024. We shared our concerns on the lack of ambition and rollback on women’s rights in all diversity, and discussed the role of the UN in the crises our world faces, from armed conflicts to chemical pollution.

Photos ITUC and WECF: Meeting with Belgium Minister of Environment, Zakia Khattabi and cabinet members with delegates from EEB, ITUC, CIEL, WECF and Ukrainian civil society (left) and dialogue with the President of the General Assembly, Dennis Francis with WMG members (right) during UNEA6.