Women, Human Rights & the Environment
What is the Human Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment?
Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to a safe and healthy environment, and to other fundamental human rights linked to and dependent upon a healthy environment.
The Human Rights at Issue
Human rights relating to the environment are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:
- The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
- The human right to the highest attainable standard of health.
- The human right to ecologically sustainable development.
- The human right to an adequate standard of living, including access to safe food and water.
- The human right to freedom from any type of discrimination.
- The human right to safe working conditions, including adequate safeguards for pregnant and lactating women.
- The human right to education and information, including information relating to links between health and the environment.
- The human right to full and equal participation in environmental decision-making and development planning, and in shaping decisions and policies affecting one's community, at the local, national and international levels.
- The human right to share in the benefits of scientific progress.
- The human right of the child to live in an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment:
What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment?
Includes excerpts from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169).
- "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: the right to work...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.... States Parties shall ... provide special protection to women during pregnancy in ... work proved to be harmful to them.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... that [women in rural areas] participate in and benefit from rural development and ... ensure ... the right: ... to participate in ... development planning at all levels; to have access to adequate health care facilities...; to obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal...; ... to have access to... appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform...; to enjoy adequate living conditions...."
- -- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 11 and 14
- "Everyone, as a member of society, ... is entitled to realization ... of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ... health and well-being.... Everyone has the right ... to share in scientific advancement and its benefits...."
- -- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 22, 25, and 27
- "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may ... freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.... In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.... The States Parties ... recognize the right to work.... to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... safe and healthy working conditions....; The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family..., to the continuous improvement of living conditions.... States Parties ... shall ... improve methods of [food] production ... by ... reforming agrarian systems ... to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.... The steps to be taken ... to achieve ...this right shall include ... improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to education...; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications...."
- -- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 1, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, and 15
- "States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination...; ... shall prohibit and bring to an end ... racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.... States Parties ... guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction..., to equality ... in the enjoyment of ... economic, social and cultural rights..."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 2 and 5
- "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health...; shall ... combat disease and malnutrition ... through the provision of adequate and nutritious foods and clean drinking water, taking into consideration the dangers ... of environmental pollution.... States Parties recognize ... the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the childıs physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... "
- -- Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 24 and 27
- "[Indigenous peoples] shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control ... over their own economic, social and cultural development.... Governments shall take measures ... to protect and preserve the environment of the territories they inhabit.²
- -- ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), Article 7
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment:
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to a Healthy and Safe Environment?
Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "We are deeply convinced that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, which is the framework for our efforts to achieve a higher quality of life for all people. Equitable social development that recognizes empowering the poor, particularly women living in poverty, to utilize environmental resources sustainably is a necessary foundation for sustainable development."
- -- Beijing Declaration, para. 36
- "Actions to be taken: ... Ensure opportunities for women ... to participate in environmental decision-making at all levels.... Facilitate and increase womenıs access to information and education, including in the areas of science, technology and economics, thus enhancing their knowledge, skills and opportunities for participation in environmental decisions.... Take appropriate measures to reduce risks to women from identified environmental hazards at home, at work and in other environments.... Integrate women, ... their perspectives and knowledge ... in decision-making regarding sustainable resource management and the development of policies ... for sustainable development.... Evaluate policies ... in terms of environmental impact and womenıs equal access to and use of natural resources...."
- -- Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 253 and 256
- "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.... In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it...."
- -- Rio Declaration, Principles 1 and 4
- "We are confronted with...a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems.... However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future.... Objective: ... By the year 2000 ... incorporate ... environmental ... safeguards as part of ... development...; Establish ... programmes for providing environmental injury, hazard surveillance and the basis for abatement in all countries;... Establish ... programmes for tackling pollution at the source and at the disposal site...; Control ... use of pesticides...; Establish industrial hygiene programmes in ... major industries for... surveillance of workers' exposure to health hazards...."
- -- Agenda 21, Chapter 1, para. 1 and Chapter 6, para. 40
- "The right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. The World Conference on Human Rights recognizes that illicit dumping of toxic and dangerous substances and waste potentially constitutes a serious threat to the human rights to life and health of everyone. Consequently, the World Conference ... calls on all States to adopt and vigorously implement existing conventions relating to the dumping of toxic and dangerous products and waste and to cooperate in the prevention of illicit dumping."
- -- Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Part I, para. 11
- "Sustainable development is essential for human settlements development, and gives full consideration to the needs and necessities of achieving economic growth, social development and environmental protection.... We commit ourselves to the goal of sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world by developing societies that will make efficient use of resources within the carrying capacity of ecosystems..., and by providing all people ... with equal opportunities for a healthy, safe and productive life in harmony with nature.... We...commit ourselves to :... promoting changes in unsustainable production and consumption patterns...; population policies ... that are ... sustainable, reduce environmental stress, promote ... efficient ... use of natural resources... and meet basic needs, ... providing a healthy ... environment ... and reducing the ecological footprint of human settlements...."
- -- Habitat Agenda, paras. 29, 42 and 43
For more information, please contact PDHRE:
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;