Implementing sustainable development is partially the art of overcoming false juxtapositions. It would be a gross mistake to approach (and discard) challenges related to saving our planet and creating just societies with equal rights for all in the Brechtian perspective of “Food is the first thing, morals follow on”. Sustainability and equality should not be perceived as dependent variables of future development that are separate from each other. On the contrary: securing our prospects of prosperity becomes ever more dependent on successfully combining strategies of ecological modes of production with social inclusion and equality.
The 2015 UN resolution Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes, on the highest global level possible, the necessity to jointly combat urgent issues of underdevelopment and social injustice by making use of natural resources in a rational, sustainable way.
Besides establishing common ownership of the subject matter, by interconnecting problems like social inequalities and extreme poverty (Goal 1) with aspects like health and well-being (Goal 3), gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (Goal 5), the access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all (goal 7) and decent work (goal 8), the resolution opens a whole new door to perceiving root causes of global misdevelopments as well as strategies to overcome them.
In this light, it is possible to discuss potential differences in the social engagement of women and men in general and towards questions of ecology in particular, as well as questions such as practical approaches to measuring and improving ecological footprint, gender-sensitive budgeting on various administrative and political levels, inclusive infrastructure, sustainable transport, heating and consumption patterns as well as ecological farming as an instrument of rural development.
Some of these topics inspired the discussions during the VII International Gender Workshop organized by the Belgrade office of Heinrich Böll Foundation on April, 23rd-25th, 2018. As in previous years, colleagues from our offices in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Georgia, Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine did not only exchange and update on the current state of the art in questions of gender equality and antidiscrimination in the given countries, but also took a closer look on a specific topic, i.e. the Serbian perspective on Gender-Oriented Sustainable Development.
Coordinators Paola Petric and Damjan Rehm Bogunovic provided ample project evidence for their successful, step-by-step approach towards using economy and social issues as an entry point for promoting ecological measures. One of the most visible is the support for women’s farming cooperatives in Vojvodina, which participants were invited to meet with during the last day of the trip. Such projects aim at promoting local ecological food production in a region where 60% of women are unemployed or financially dependent on their husbands.
EXAMPLE – video clip on the feminist farming cooperatives
The positive story of Vojvodina region is that women, across ethnical lines, seem to be more prone to understand that poverty is a common denominator that demands joint action. Especially elderly women would respond very enthusiastically to initiatives of social activation and positive emphasis on culturally rich regional identities, but they often lack an efficient and rational business approach.
This is where sustainable development experts come in to show how measures aimed at energy self-sufficiency and strategic investments in the promotion of local brands can make businesses profitable. What is more, according to Paola and Damjan, it can be observed that as soon as local cooperatives start to make some extra money, the participating women immediately invest these funds in the education of their children.
The office in Serbia follows this approach also in other topics, e.g. in supporting the economic empowerment of local Roma population through bicycle transport projects (see the publication Moving out of Poverty: From Waste Picking to Sustainable Mobility), by facilitating discussions on alternative, cooperative models for financing communal housing projects or educational projects on combating energy poverty in Serbia (cf. some of the articles in Perspectives South Eastern Europe – The Right to the City).
One of the most interesting learning outcomes of the meeting where striking similarities between the situation in Serbia and Poland, both in reference to housing policies (deregulated developer-driven market, credits in Swiss Francs, evictions) and energy poverty (low-quality heating devices creating toxic smog, high energy prices, lack of political ownership of the problem in the face of vested interests).
In the Serbian case, the gender aspect of energy poverty is even more visible, with women being much more exposed to the detrimental health effects and open for concrete actions. Although some Smog Alerts have been set up, they face a lack of knowledge of technical alternatives and the poor capacities of relevant ministries and local self-government.
The meeting showed the benefits and opportunities that can be derived from transnational exchange on gender equality. Heinrich Böll Foundation in the years to come will continue supporting specific women’s (and women’s rights) networks, but also interconnect them with persons working on related topics in the field of economy and development, culture and education.