Gender Equity for Sustainable Development

Achieving Gender Equity for Sustainable Development through Environmental Adult Education in Mauritius

Report prepared by Christiana Uzoaru Okorie, YUVA Project Writer


In Africa and some parts of the world, gender stereotypes inherent in the culture of the people, defines women and men in opposite ways, create limitations to both women and men and legitimise unequal power relation. Gender stereotyping refers to the way in which a society expects women and men to behave and the specific roles women and men are expected to play the society. This cultural phenomenon has resulted in gender inequity in most African societies and contributed to non-attainment of sustainable development. Gender inequity inherent in society is a denial of Human Rights and is of great concern to sustainable development.

Gender Equity is the process of allocating resources, programs and decision-making fairly to both males and females. This requires ensuring that everyone, girls and women, boys and men are being provided with a full range of activity and program choices that meet their needs, interests and experiences. Achieving gender equity is critical to sustainable development.

The adoption by 189 governments of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action marked a turning point in the history of women’s rights. This progressive blueprint remains a powerful source of inspiration in the effort to realize equal opportunities for women and girls. It was in line with this that the international community in 2000 identified promotion of gender equity and women empowerment in goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and 2015 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girl. These goals were in recognition that to achieve sustainable development, gender equity need to properly address in all society. However, gender equity is an essential building block in sustainable development, the three pillars of sustainable development, which are economic well-being, social equity and environment protection.

To further champion the cause of gender equity in sustainable development, the post 2015 sustainable development agenda proposed a renewed focus on women, households and communities in the context of environmental management; that must respect and uphold women’s rights to essential environmental goods and services such as water, energy and food; and putting place an environment that is conducive to gender equality more broadly through:

  1. promoting gender-sensitive legislation;
  2. enforcing existing legislation;
  3. making judicial systems more accessible and responsive to women; and
  4. providing legal aid to women seeking to claim their rights.

In all societies, women’s and men’s roles are socially constructed, but all too frequently gender-based disparities exist that disadvantage women; this impedes their development and hence that of humankind. Reducing poverty today, without taking care of environmental degradation and social and economic inequalities tomorrow cannot be achieved or sustained without paying careful attention to gender-based differences. More often, women and girls bear the burden of gender disparities. Because of their socially-constructed roles, men and boys usually have an advantage over women and girls in access to resources, decision-making, and capacity to take advantage of social, political, and economic opportunities. To enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of development interventions, and achieve sustainable development, these differences need to be understood and factored into policies and programs.

In Mauritius, before the technological growth, women are traditional homemakers; they engage in subsistence farming and fishing, and many unpaid domestic tasks, which in one way or the other not recognized as developmental activities. But women role change after the adoption of export processing legislation (Export Processing Zone Act in 1970), that employment opportunities in the factories emerged for women.

Despite the technological evolution, Mauritius is still dominated by a strong patriarchal (gender) ideology, gender discrimination in both economic histories of Mauritius continued, with women earning less than men for comparable employment in manufacturing, and concentration of women in lower-skilled positions, domestic violence, and so on. Gender ideology according to refers to Davis and Greenstein (2009), is the attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights and responsibilities of women and men in society, in support of this, Shvedova (2002) pointed out that societies all over the world are dominated by an ideology about “a woman’s place.”; a perception that women should only play the role of a working mother, which is generally low-paid and apolitical. This ideology not only threatens sustainable development but the future of the planet.

The implications of not providing girls with equal voices, choices, and opportunities affect not just their lives, but the future of the planet. Efforts to promote inclusive sustainable development and fight climate change are inextricably linked. If we care about development, we must care about the consequences our greenhouse-gas emissions are having around the world. And if we do not take urgent action, we will irreparably damage the natural systems on which life depends.

The issue of equity is linked to the attainment of the three pillars of sustainable development because the central ethical principle behind sustainable development is equity and particularly intergenerational equity. The Brundtland Commission, which played such a prominent part in popularising the notion of sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, incorporated the rhetoric of equity sustainable development strategies and policies. Also, the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 reaffirmed the centrality of equity in its Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. Equity according to Falk, Hampton, Hodgkinson, Parker, and Rorris (1993) is about fairness, it is derived from a concept of social justice. It represents a belief that there are some things which people should have, that there are basic needs that should be fulfilled, that burdens and rewards should not be spread too divergently across the community, and that policy should be directed with impartiality, fairness and justice towards these ends.

Furthermore, Falk, Hampton, Hodgkinson, Parker, and Rorris (1993) contend that equity means that there should be a minimum level of income and environmental quality below which nobody falls and that within a community it usually also means that everyone should have equal access to community resources and opportunities and that no individuals or groups of people should be asked to carry a greater environmental burden than the rest of the community as a result of government actions. It is generally agreed that equity implies a need for fairness (not necessarily equality) in the distribution of gains and losses, and the entitlement of everyone to an acceptable quality and standard of living. Gender equity in the context of sustainable development has to do with fairness between men and women, boy and girls of a community. It doesn’t mean the neglect of a particular gender, but to achieve a reasonable balance between satisfying men and girl needs now and setting aside enough to provide for their needs of the future.

However, from the discussions of equity and sustainable development, it will be deduced that protection of environment requires s solid understanding of men and women relationship to natural and environmental resources, as well as their rights and roles in resource planning and management; the economic well-being requires gender-sensitive strategies; and social equity in the society. For example, when gender-related social, economic and environmental issues in a society are viewed as separate as unrelated parts of the society, the society’s problem is also viewed as isolated issues. This piecemeal approach to gender-related societal issue will not lead to sustainable development. Rather than a piecemeal approach, a more comprehensive approach that will result in sustainable development is environmental adult education approach.

Environmental adult education as defined by Okorie (2015) is an educational programme that will increase adult learners’ knowledge about the environment, develop in the adult the necessary skills and also change their behaviour towards the environment. Environmental adult education is an engaging, inclusive, and active educational approach drawn from multiple disciplines that informs and empowers learners to take actions for addressing the root causes of environmental problems. Accordingly, Dokubo and Okorie (2017) assert that Environmental adult education is an educational process that is designed for adult, in which the content:

  1. provides environmental awareness
  2. knowledge of the environment and its associated problems
  3. will lead to positive attitudinal change towards the environment among the learners
  4. will equip the adult learners with skills of handling environmental issues
  5. promotes the consciousness of participating in activities that help in sustaining the environment.

In the context of this project, achieving gender equity for sustainable development through environmental adult education will cover, gender equity and economic, social, and environment; and the place of environmental adult education in achieving gender equity for sustainable development.

Gender Equity and Economic Growth

Mauritian society was thus dominated by a strong patriarchal ideology. Women were legally and culturally attributed a second-class status in society. Women experience poverty differently from men because they are denied equal rights and opportunities, lack access to resources and services and are excluded from important decisions that affect their lives and development. Thus a full understanding of the gender dimensions of poverty and of the inequalities which determine women’s disadvantaged position in society is necessary if the rights and needs of women and men are to be met equally and sustainable development is to be achieved. Women are highly reliant on their local environment for their livelihood; they frequently lack ownership and decision-making power over the natural resources on which they depend. These factors limit women’s potential to climb out of poverty, makes them very vulnerable to environmental change or degradation, and increases and perpetuates inequality.

The issue of gender equity needs to be addressed in order for Mauritius women to have access to most of the depravities that have contributed to their state in society because gender inequity not just affect the lives of women, but the future of the planet. The future of the planet is dependent on equitable distribution and usage of the resources. Gender fairness is not to create a society that is the same and genderless. It is about everyone being given the same opportunities, rights and obligations despite their differences. Achieving gender equity is having the understanding that advantage exists alongside disadvantage. We need to address both if we are to achieve economic growth.

Gender and Social Equity

Women’s place in most Africa nations social structure to that of the man is basically inequity, and this can also affect the sustainable development process of such nation. In view of this, Henderson and Jayden (2010) argued that women’s status in society shapes their political role and levels of participation in politics. Continued perceptions of traditional social roles for men and women can serve to discourage women from involvement in politics; and even when women pursue politics, they are more likely to get involved at the local or community level rather than at the national level (McCann & Wilson, 2012).

To ensure fairness (equity), we need to implement measures, programs and strategies to compensate for the social and historical disadvantages women face in the workforce and in life to create an even playing field. The government of Mauritius enacted the 2008 Equal Opportunities Act, which prohibits any direct or indirect discrimination in areas such as employment, recruitment, distribution of services and access to education. Like the Employment Rights Act 2008, the Equal Opportunities Act provides provisions against sexual harassment. In addition, Mauritius adopted, in 2008, a National Gender Policy Framework, aimed and addressing discriminatory practices in a wide range of areas, and the government has declared its intention to undertake a review of the 1968 Constitution.

Although women in Mauritius fare well in terms of educational attainment, this has not translated into equality in terms of wage equality, income levels or representation in political life. For equity to be attained socially in Mauritius government need to mainstream gender equity in all levels of her social sector. Gender mainstreaming aims to ensure that both practical and strategic gender needs are addressed. Practical gender needs are related to daily needs and activities. They are linked to roles that women and men are given by society. Strategic gender needs are related to changing the relationships, roles and responsibilities of women and men in society. Although, Mauritius government have made commitment to gender equity through constitutional provision, promulgation of act, policy, declaration, and so on at national, regional and international level. These include:

  1. The Constitution which outlaws discrimination based on sex among the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals;
  2. The Sex Discrimination Act No 43 of 2002 that provides for “special measures to achieve equality”, including measures to ensure “substantive equality between men and women.”;
  3. The National Gender Policy that is currently under review and in which it is recommended that this strategy for mainstreaming gender at local level be specifically mentioned and affirmed;
  4. The Southern African Development Community Declaration on Gender and Development and the draft Protocol on Gender and Development to be presented to Heads of State in August 2007. The latter sets a target of 50% women in all areas and at all levels of decision making by 2015;
  5. Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) Worldwide Declaration on Women in Local Government.

The National Women Council under the aegis of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare (MGECDFW) is now engaged in an island-wide campaign on the dissemination of information on gender issues. Sensitisation campaigns take place in the network of women centres across the island, including in community centres. Concurrently, the MGECDFW has an ongoing “Men as Partners Programme” and “Working with Boys for Gender Equality” that targets men and youngsters in the different communities to sensitise them on gender equality, challenge patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in family and society.

Socially gender inequity in Mauritius is also visible in the gender pay gap in the private sector, this appears to be the by-product of two main factors which are

  1. women employed in the private sector have less productive characteristics compared with men as women are disproportionately employed in traditional sectors and low-skilled occupations; and
  2. the pay structure seems to favor men over women.

However, to bridge the gender pay gap in the private sector, change needs to occur through the education system that should place a strong focus on curbing discriminatory social norms among men and women. The public sector instead is an attractive avenue for highly skilled women, who are on average paid more than males, and could serve as best practice of more equitable treatment. Thus gender equity puts the focus on fairness and justice regarding benefits and needs for women and men, girls and boys.

Gender and Environmental Protection           

Women in rural communities in Mauritius spend a significant portion of their time performing subsistence tasks linked to natural resources, such as gathering fuel wood or growing crops and vegetables to feed their families, . In spite of this, women remain insufficiently recognised and involved in environmental policy-making and environmental management for sustainable development due to gender inequality prevalent in most African society. Gender equity is crucial for every country and every society in Africa and the world at large for sustainable development to be attained.

Gender Equity and Sustainable Development

Sustainable development as defined the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Brundtland Commission in her tagged Our Common Future (1987), defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The report also identified three components to sustainable development: economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity, and suggested that all three can be achieved by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies. (United Nations General Assembly, 1987:43). This concept of sustainable development as contained in United Nations General Assembly (1987), aims to maintain economic advancement and progress while protecting the long-term value of the environment; it “provides a framework for the integration of environment policies and development strategies”.

Environmental inequities exist in all societies. Poorer people tend to suffer the burden of environmental problems more than others do. This is because more affluent people have more choices about where they live: they can afford to pay more to live in areas that have not had their environment degraded. Also, more affluent people are better able to fight the imposition of a polluting facility in their neighbourhood because they have better access to financial resources, education, skills and the decision-making structures. Similarly workers in certain industries are often exposed to higher health risks than the rest of the community, for example, are workers in mining or mineral processing and the chemical industry. Often, the work-forces in very hazardous industries are made up of large numbers of migrants or ethnic minorities.

The reason that intragenerational equity is a key principle of sustainable development is that inequities are a cause of environmental degradation. Poverty deprives people of the choice about whether or not to be environmentally sound in their activities. In Brundtland Commission, it was stated that those who are poor and hungry will often destroy their immediate environment in order to survive; they will cut down forests; their livestock will overgraze grasslands; they will overuse marginal land; and in growing numbers they will crowd into congested cities. The cumulative effect of these changes is so far-reaching as to make poverty itself a major global scourge. Sustainable development requires the full and equal participation of men and women at all levels (Hemmati and Gardiner, 2002). Gender equity is an essential building block in sustainable development. The three “pillars” of sustainable development cannot be achieved without solving the prevailing problem of gender inequity through requisite education programme that is transformative..

The Place of Environmental Adult Education in Achieving Gender Equity for Sustainable Development in the Context of Mauritius

Yarmol-Franko in Haugen (2010:3), asserted that the key to sustainable development is the transformation in the way we think and live, both individually and collectively; that we must break habits and throw away norms as the environment becomes a running theme throughout our lives; that environmental adult education works to achieve this transformation. Achieving gender equity for sustainable development depends upon the transformation of intragenerational gender inequity ideology. Transformation in this context involves cognitive, emotional and action dimensions toward gender equity. Environmental adult education is a means by which the adult populace of Mauritius can be educated on the need to fully implement the international agreement targeting gender equity which includes the Belgium Platform for the Habitat Agenda and its review in 1997 and the Agenda of the UN sub-committee on the prevention of discrimination and protection of minorities.

Treaty on environmental education for sustainable development states that environmental adult education affirms value and actions which contributes to human and social transformation and ecological preservation and it fosters ecological sound and equitable societies that live together in interdependency and diversity which require individual and collective levels. (Apel and Camozzi in Ifoni, 2008). 

Environmental Adult Education Processes for Achieving Gender Equity for Sustainable Development

Gender equity is the “missing link” of sustainable development. Stressing the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development in the absence of economics neglects the financial capital needed to pay for progress. Building up the economic and social pillars of sustainability while neglecting the environment degrades the natural capital needed for growth. Focusing on economics and the environment without attention to social factors can lead to green growth for a few. Given gender gaps worldwide, these few tend to be mostly men. To achieve gender equity for sustainable development through environmental adult education, the following environmental adult education processes need to be utilized n Mauritius;

  1. Building on indigenous knowledge;
  2. recognition of cultural belief (involvement of stakeholders);
  3. Awareness raising concerning the importance of gender equity;
  4. Enhancing traditional roles and knowledge through environmental adult education activities.

Environmental adult education according to Haugen (2010) is an engaging, inclusive, active educational approach that informs and empowers the learners to become activist, it transforms learning to action by addressing the root causes of environmental problems, that environmental adult educators hope learners will come away with knowledge of environmental problems and causes of those problems, the skills to engage in social activism and to combat environmental problems, and attitudes of respect and reverence for the natural environment. However, the tenet of sustainable development (environmental protection, economic growth and social equity form the challenge of environmental adult education, and the solution to these challenges will bring about gender equity for sustainable development. Sustainability is about more than just quality of life. It is about understanding the connections between and achieving balance among the social, economic, and environment.

Benavides (1992:43) suggests that environmental adult education must be a process that:

  1. Enables human beings and societies to “reach their fullest potential in order that they might live in harmony among themselves and in nature.”
  2. Empowers all who participate in the learning process, learners and educators.
  3. Creates interest and motivation by helping people to feel ownership and also a sense that collectively, they can make a change (LEAP/Ecologic, 1994).

This view corroborate with Guevara (2000) argument that environmental adult education is empowering and transformative when it helps people to believe in their capacity to change themselves, their community and their environment resources.


If we want to achieve development which will cater for the needs of today generation without compromising the ability of future generation to use the same resources, gender equity must be put to place through proper environmental adult education which seek to provide awareness of all the provisions in the environment, how to utilize them equitably and manage them for better life existence.


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Registered in February 2015, YUVA started as a group of enthusiastic individuals, and today it has mobilised thousands of young people with a simple aim of creating a better future for children and youth of Mauritius. At the heart of YUVA’s duty lies the conviction that the collective destinies of the human race are bound together.

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