Women and Sustainability in Costa Rica FINAL PAPER

This topic submitted by Cecilia Miller ( stringbean_16@hotmail.com) at 4:31 PM on 5/15/05.

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With the coming of a new, green, age many environmental topics are brought to the surface of everyday life. Following the United Nation’s dedication of 1975 being the “women’s year”, women’s involvement in the green movement has sky rocketed. 1975 to 1985 was recognized as the Decade for Women, and light was shed on women of the world in corporate and developing countries alike. “Women in Development” became the decade’s catchphrase and women’s groups began to look into political power standings as well as environmental issues, with the beginnings of the sustainable, green movement waiting to be brought to the forefront (Kirby1995). However, there has been considerable separation of understandings between women of industrialized countries and developing countries pertaining to sustainable development. Women coming from different cultural backgrounds and experiences can lead to varying views on environmental problems and how they should be dealt with. I hope to provide incite to varying viewpoints and use a holistic approach to understanding cultural differences in regards to women’s views on conservation and sustainability.

Sustainability and Sustainable Development
Sustainable development is defined as development balancing near-term interests with the protection of the interests of future generations. The Brundtland Analysis breaks sustainability into two main ideals. First, is the notion that the basic needs for all humankind must be met. (Kirby1995) Developing countries must be uplifted to possess the same quality of life as developed countries. In some cases this may mean the developed countries must go without to provide for the developing countries. “Inequity is the planet’s main environmental and developmental problem (WCED1987).” Second, Brundtland also notes that limits to development are seen as technical, cultural and social. These limits deal with monetary restrictions, cultural traditions and separation of class. (Kirby1995) In conclusion, Brundtland’s ideal developmental processes contains the belief that equity, growth and environmental maintenance are simultaneously possible while each country achieves it’s full economic potential and enhances its resource base.
Implemented in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, with the signing of Agenda 21, sustainable development was recognized as a movement whose goal is to achieve world sustainable living standards. The sustainable development process feeds off of these ideals when inciting development projects at local and international levels.
So, sustainability and sustainable development run hand and hand and are ultimately the basis for the concept of conservation.

Problems with Sustainability and Sustainable Development
The main problem with the sustainable movement is turning policy and hypothetical development designs into active projects. This is especially true when implementing policy from the national to local level. This is usually why grassroots movements find the greatest success when applying sustainable development principles. They don’t have to wait for the top-down infiltration of policy; they build their practice from the bottom-up. Lack of education is another serious hindrance to the sustainable movement. Without specific guidelines to sustainable practices, vagaries are substantial at the policy level, making it extremely difficult to uniformly instruct individuals working at the project level. However, many women are starting grassroots sustainable projects to benefit not only their families and communities but also themselves.

Why focus on Women and Sustainable Development?
Upon the entrance of the twenty-first century, nearly three billion people had incomes of less than two dollars per day. (Cooper2004) Most of these people are women who live in developing countries, and are usually in direct contact with natural resources on a daily basis. It only makes sense for these women to take action to preserve these needed resources and generate supplemental income. Women and resources or “nature” are also put into the same category because some propose that the same patriarchal, oppressive system that dominates women also negatively affects the environment. (Shiva1988) So one could hope that the liberation of women brings about positive environmental change, or vice versa. Starting development projects also gives great educational opportunities and puts women in teaching positions as well as learning. As one can see in the following case study of the grassroots operation COFERENE, women’s income, resource, education, and many other concerns are met with the formation of this sustainable development project.

The Women’s Collective for Saving Our Ecology, or COFERENE, is a grassroots organization based in Costa Rica. Fifteen Costa Rican women started COFERENE in 1995. Most of the women were younger to middle aged and married. Some had secondary educations, but all came from relatively middle to lower class backgrounds. The women were devoted to environmental conservation and began to collect recyclable waste from local homes and businesses to reduce solid waste pollution and protect community resource bases. CONFERENE generates around $1,100.00 per month to pay a staff of 13. This allows the women some supplementary income to contribute to their own households. This generated income empowers the women to not only continue their work for the environment, but also feel more secure in being able to financially sustain themselves.
COFERENE relies on multiple partnerships; governmental, corporate and private, to continue their conservative work. The Municipality of San Ramon supplied a truck for hauling recycling goods, a private donator contributed a plot of land for the women of COFERENE to build a child care center (Because of COFERENE’s unexpected success the women now are putting in more hours and in need of child care services for their families), The University of Costa Rica contributes interns to work and improve technology, other NGO’s contributed leadership services and budget screening, and even corporations such as Coca-Cola have negotiated disposal and recycling services with
COFERENE. (Vargas2002)
COFERENE also empowers women by placing them in authority positions. When COFERENE reached a splitting point of NGO and fully established micro enterprise, a woman was appointed CEO. Seeing a successful woman empowered other women as well. In 1997, a COFERENE member initiated an environmental education campaign and by 1998 the campaign was in motion nation-wide with the objective of raising environmental consciousness in the rural areas where people “feel forgotten by government officials.” (Vargas2002) Issues of sustainability, income generation, education and women’s empowerment are successfully addressed within the formation and accomplishments of this grassroots organization.

From this one successful example from COFERENE, we can take several lessons. First, grassroots organizations are completely capable of setting up successful venues without the assistance of an outside (western) development assembly. Second, Shiva’s suggestion of liberating women and the environment at the same time seems to ring quite true in COFERENE’s case. Third, a stable governmental structure is extremely helpful when women aim to accomplish large-scale projects and begin to attain positions of power. In many developing countries I fear there has not been as much support or allowance of women in authority positions such as CEO.
The concept of sustainability is a very current issue. Even in a country as developed as the United States, it must compete within the departments of the Federal government with other projects and concerns that enjoy a much higher recognition and status. Implementation of sustainability projects within the U.S. is a low priority given the current American political climate. The sustainable movement has the potential for much positive change in the environment and human quality of life. Spreading the word about sustainability is crucial if we are to realize the optimistic visions of preserving the natural wonders of our world. Be sustainable!

UN 2005. http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csd13/csd13.htm April 18, 2005.
UN 2004. http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/agenda21chapter24.htm April 18, 2005.

Shiva, V. Staying Alive. Women, Ecology, and Development. Zed books Ltd., London.
Cooper, Phillip. J, Vargas, Claudia Maria. Implementing Sustainable Development: From
Global Policy to Local Action. Rowman and Littlefield. USA. 2004.

Kirby, John, O’Keefe, Phil, Lloyd Timberlake. The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable
Development. Earthscan Pub. London. 1995.

Vargas, Claudia Maria. Women in Sustainable Development: Empowerment through
Partnerships for Healthy Living. Elsevier Science Ltd. Great Britian. 2002.

Ahooja-Patel, Krishna. Women and Sustainable Development: An International Dimension. Ashish Publishing. New Delhi. 1995.

WCED. Our Common Future. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 1987.

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