Fifth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 5: Gender Equality.
There has been a lot of progress toward gender equality in recent times worldwide, yet there is still a huge amount of work to be done before equality is reached. In India, a recent report highlighted that women are paid 34% less than men (an average across all income brackets) and that when governments reduce expenditure “on essential public services such as education and healthcare women and girls are the first ones to lose out on these services” (source). Notably, the further down the socioeconomic ladder one looks the worse the situation becomes. The same can be said for disaster resilience- the most vulnerable are poorer income earners, especially women and girls- according to a report by the World Bank.
Within waste picking communities globally these unequal situations are highly prevalent. There is a current need, among other areas, to help reduce the number of external shocks felt from both men and women working as waste pickers (for example, in the case of a disaster- how can the individuals in the waste picking community to become more resilient?), and develop systems to limit how marginalisation impedes economic independence. This situation is often due to the fact that “despite the increased attention given to studies on waste picking and solid waste management, there is still a lack of understanding on the gender dynamics and sexual division of labour involved in waste picking activities” (source).
Solutions to help mitigate the impacts felt on the most vulnerable in waste picking communities range from NGOs and Social Businesses creating networks to help individual communities and in particular women-run dry waste facilities, for example, to calls to action for the government to provide structured working environments to improve the livelihoods of individuals relying on waste to support themselves and their families. In Chile, an article published for World Development suggests that “positive government intervention, particularly in supporting a stronger structural organization for the waste-picker recycling system, is advocated as the primary policy recommendation of this paper” (source) to improve the livelihoods of waste workers.
A key example of focusing on creating a structure for waste workers and in particular women and girls is seen in the organisation WEIGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), who are global research, policy network focusing on improving livelihoods of the working poor in the informal economy. This has led, in Pune in India, to collaboration with the “8000-strong union of waste pickers, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and its solid waste management cooperative SWaCH” (source) to improvements of Occupational Health and Safety standards, and provided support for KKPKP’s campaign on Extended Producer Responsibility, which directly improves the livelihoods of women and girls. Such collaborations are the starting point to ensure that waste workers, especially the most vulnerable, are included in a system that values each segment- the circular economy- rather than dumping waste down the socioeconomic scale- the linear process- where the most vulnerable in Indian society and other communities globally are impacted the most. Simple steps with strong support from a variety of stakeholders present an opportunity to implement a more sustainable, equal environment for every single man, woman, boy and girl.