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The integral role of women in waste management

Published: 18th Jan, 2024


According to the one global online survey titled Mapping the status of women in the global waste management sector conducted by Women of Waste (WOW), an initiative led by women in the waste sector and supported by the International Solid Waste Association- women contribute massively to the global waste management sector.

Revealing data

  • The data which was collected across 73 countries of 626 women reveals that across the globe women are engaged in a variety of roles across the waste management hierarchy, and through a diversity of organisations, even though they are not very ‘visible’ in society. 
  • The majority of responses were received from upper-middle and high-income countries; however, many highly qualified and experienced women were active in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
  • For example, the survey found that the majority of respondents currently work in local government (30.2 per cent), followed by private waste management companies (14.4 per cent) and consulting / engineering companies (13.3 per cent). 
  • Moreover, women have been increasingly active in promoting waste prevention, in reuse, recycling and recovery of materials: In other words, proactive jobs and activities to help break the waste crisis.

The integral role of women in waste management

  • It is a crucial aspect often overlooked in policymaking. Gender inclusion in waste management strategies can lead to more holistic and inclusive solutions.
  • In many developing economies, particularly in areas where informal waste picking is prevalent, women have been the driving force in waste collection activities.
  • Women play a significant role in household waste segregation and collection, contributing to the initial stages of the waste management process. Beyond household responsibilities, women globally contribute extensively to the solid waste management sector and circular economy.
  • Their involvement spans various roles such as engineers, collectors, recyclers, activists, researchers, policymakers, and even higher-level managerial positions.

    In India, women's participation in waste management tends to be dominant at the grassroots level, involving activities like collection, segregation, and informal waste recycling.
  • Despite low-paying jobs, women contribute significantly to the waste management chain, where they excel in door-to-door collection and segregation.

    One example from Pune emphasize that 90% of street recycling pickers, often informal workers, are women. In Bengaluru, women, known as 'pourakarmikas,' actively participate in waste collection and separation, contributing to the recycling process.

    Persistent Challenges
  • With women often engaged in repetitive and time-consuming tasks, earning less than their male counterparts. Integrating a gender perspective into waste management policies is crucial.
  • Such policies should address gender-specific needs, create opportunities for women at various levels of the waste management value chain, and promote their leadership roles.

    The importance of women's participation in decision-making roles within the waste sector extends beyond gender equality. It leverages their unique perspectives for better environmental management and sustainable development.
  • To maximize women's contributions, equal opportunities, training programs, and awareness campaigns are essential.

    Diverse engagement and multi-dimensional impact
  • Grassroots Impact:
    Women actively contribute at the grassroots level, excelling in door-to-door collection and segregation, as seen in cities like Pune and Ambikapur.
    • This can also serve to engage them positively at local level serving multiple benefits ranging from economic participation, waste management, and regeneration to sustainable practices.
  • Economic Empowerment: Women engaged in waste management, particularly in informal roles, contribute significantly to their families' income, leading to economic empowerment.
  • Community Health and Awareness: Women, often associated with household cleanliness and family health, are quick to notice environmental deterioration, making them crucial for community health and awareness.
  • Entrepreneurship Opportunities: Integrating women into decision-making roles provides opportunities for entrepreneurship in waste management, addressing gender disparities.

Environmental Sustainability: Women’s unique perspectives contribute to better environmental management, fostering sustainability and aligning with India's waste reduction and recycling goals.

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