Why This Planet Needs a Woman's Touch

A woman in Rwanda farming tea leaves.

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Women around the world possess crucial knowledge about agriculture and biodiversity.

When you're trying to protect an entire planet, it seems pretty silly to leave half of its human inhabitants out of the discussion, but that's exactly what's happening to women in many parts of the world, according to a recent report on the IPS news wire. Local projects in Afghanistan and Honduras, however, show what can be accomplished when women are allowed to take the lead on environmental issues -- something a U.N. agreement on biodiversity seeks to encourage around the world.The IPS reported last month that "women provide up to 90 percent of the rural poor's food and produce up to 80 percent of food in most developing countries, and yet they are almost completely ignored when policy decisions are made about agriculture and biodiversity," an analysis echoed by Lorena Aguilar, a senior gender advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Moravia, Costa Rica:

"Women are the protectors of agricultural biodiversity. In Peru, they grow more than 60 varieties of manioc, in Rwanda more than 600 varieties of beans. Leaving aside 50 percent of the population when we are in a biodiversity crisis has not been very smart."

According to figures from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the IPS added, women in developing countries collect 80 percent of the wild edibles and save up to 90 percent of the seeds used in small-scale agriculture.

Women Lead Environmental Projects in Honduras, Afghanistan

A woman farming strawberries in Afghanistan.

Paula Bronstein / Staff / Getty Images

The U.N. hopes to tap this knowledge with a strategic plan for the Convention on Biological Diversity, set to be submitted for approval to its 195 member countries in October, that will "ask countries to ensure women are involved in decisions regarding biodiversity -- including agriculture."

Women's efforts in other types of environmental endeavors can be crucial as well. Standing up to cultural beliefs that a woman's place is in the home, a group of women -- many of them single mothers, elderly, or widowed -- in an isolated part of Honduras cleaned up a blighted lagoon and are making a living with their recycling efforts.

"Before, people would throw their garbage in the lagoon, and Puerto Lempiro was ugly, full of garbage, and the pollution affected us. The lagoon is the source of our staple food, which is fish," group leader Cendela López Kilton, 58, told IPS. "With the contamination, we were affected by diseases like malaria and diarrhea, but now that has decreased."

In Afghanistan, women have likewise challenged cultural prejudices to fight for the little bit of green space in Kabul that they can call their own. Though "women on construction projects are almost unheard of in Afghanistan," the New York Times reports, they make up 50 percent of the workforce renovating the Kabul Women's Garden, a leafy, tree-lined space where women can relax uncovered in each other's company.