top of page

Women and sustainable development

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

As stated by the American religious leader Brigham Young, "Educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a generation". This thought emphasizes the importance of women's education in society.

Women have played a prominent role and have made significant contributions throughout the history of humanity. Notable examples include Marie Curie, the Polish scientist; Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter; Sally Ride, the American astronaut; among many others.

How we arrive at sustainable development

To reach the beginnings of sustainable development, it is important to mention those who reflected on what was happening on the planet, highlighting Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist born on May 27, 1907, in Pennsylvania. In 1962, she published the influential book "Silent Spring", which exposed the serious effects of pesticides on human health, flora, and fauna.

Suforall, Javier Trespalacios, Rachel Carson, Sillence Spring
Silent Spring y Rachel Carson (Silent Spring: A Must-Read Book for all those attending COP26 hoping to heal and save mother nature 2021)

The publication of "Silent Spring" elicited a strong reaction from the American agrochemical industry, which launched attacks against Mrs. Carson. They accused her of being a communist, a nature fanatic, hysterical, and a spinster because she had no children at the age of 55. Despite the controversy, her book became a bestseller. In this work, Carson told a story backed by scientific information that could be analyzed by both scholars and general critics.

Mrs. Carson and her work significantly contributed to popularizing environmental awareness and mass activism for environmental conservation. Unfortunately, she passed away on April 14, 1964, at the age of 56, weakened by lung cancer.

The mother of sustainable development

In the fall of 1983, the United Nations General Assembly established the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as the principal body responsible for environmental protection. This commission commenced its work in 1984 under the leadership of the Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. It was entrusted with the task of creating an international commission tasked with examining the effects of development on the environment, with three main objectives: 1. Reassess the relationship between the environment and development, 2. Formulate realistic proposals to address these issues, and 3. Establish new forms of international cooperation capable of guiding policies towards making changes.

Suforall, Javier Trespalacios, Margarita Marino, Gro Harlem Brundtland
Brundtland Commission: Margarita Marino (Colombia), Gro Harlem Brundtland (commission president) and Wangari Maathai (Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize 2004), (Botero s.d.)

In April 1987, the WCED presented "Our Common Future", a publication that included, for the first time, the definition of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This document is also known as the Brundtland Report.

Mrs. Brundtland, born on April 20, 1939, is a medical doctor with a master's degree in public health. In 1974, she held the position of Minister of the Environment in Norway, and in 1981, she was appointed as the Prime Minister, becoming the first woman to hold that position. In 1998, she assumed the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), and in 2007, she was appointed as the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for climate change, where she had the responsibility of promoting and mediating in climate change negotiations within the framework of the United Nations.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In 2004, Kenyan Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. Wangari, known as the "Tree Woman", founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977, through which she promoted the planting of millions of trees across Africa.

Suforall, Javier Trespalacios, Basel
Wangari Maathai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize (Nobel Prize s.d.)

Mrs. Maathai, born on April 1, 1940, was a biologist and political activist. Her vision was to integrate ecology and sustainable development with democracy, human rights, and the empowerment of women. Additionally, she was the first woman from Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. in 1970. As Wangari Maathai said, "When we plant trees we plant the seeds of peace and hope". Sadly, she passed away in September 2011.

Women leading changes on the planet

With passion and expertise, the Costa Rican Christiana Figueres led the negotiations of the renowned COP21 (Conference of the Parties), the annual summit where United Nations member nations discuss actions against climate change. It was at this conference, held in the fall of 2015, that the Paris Agreement was approved. Figueres is known as the architect of the final decisions and held the position of Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at that time.

The Paris Agreement represents an unprecedented commitment, as it urges all countries for the first time to take action against climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of preventing the global average temperature from rising more than 2°C.

Christiana Figueres, born on August 7, 1956, is the daughter of Costa Rica's former President, José Figueres, who held the office on three occasions. She is an anthropologist and was appointed as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010.

Christiana Figueres, COP21 (2020 Yale University s.d.) – Paula Caballero receiving the award for sustainability in Germany (German Council for Sustainable Development 2019)

On Friday, September 25, 2015, the United Nations approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals, focused on the planet, people, peace, and prosperity, began to be planned in 2012 during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio+20, which took place in Brazil. During this conference, the proposal presented by the government of Colombia to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was approved and complemented. The initiative was driven by Colombian diplomat Paula Caballero, who worked tirelessly among nations to formulate a proposal that reflected the interests of both developed and developing countries. This strategy took place over 17 months in collaboration with Indonesia, Ecuador, and the United States.

Paula Caballero is known as the mother of the SDGs and is a historian born in Bogotá. In 2019, she received the German Sustainability Award in recognition of her work related to the SDGs.

Women and the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) grant a special place to women through SDG 5: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". The purpose of this goal is to ensure that women worldwide enjoy the same freedoms, rights, and opportunities for progress in the economic, social, and environmental spheres. Within this goal, nine specific targets are defined:

Suforall, Javier Trespalacios, SDG 5
SDG 5, inside has 9 goals
  • 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

  • 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

  • 5.4 Recognize and value care and unpaid domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and the formulation of social protection policies, and promoting shared responsibility in the home and family, as appropriate in each country.

  • 5.5 Ensure the full and effective participation of women and equal leadership opportunities at all decision-making levels in political, economic and public life.

  • 5.6 Guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

  • 5.a Undertake reforms that give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control of land and other assets, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with in accordance with national laws.

  • 5.b Improve the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.

  • 5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable laws to promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

Bibliography references

  • 2020 YaleUniversity. sf "Christiana Figueres." 2020 YaleUniversity. Last access: April 21, 2022.

  • Botero, Margarita Marino de. sf «Botero Marine Daisy.» Margarita Marino de Botero. Last access: 04/23/2022.

  • German Council for Sustainable Development. 2019. "The world without the SDGs would be a much darker place." German Council for Sustainable Development. 11/22. Last access: 04/22/2022. cn-reloaded=1.

  • Nobel Prize. sf "Wangari Maathai Photo gallery." Nobel Prize. Last access: 04/20/2022.

  • 2021. «Silent Spring: A Must-Read Book for all those attending COP26 hoping to heal and save mother nature.» The Globalization for the Common Good initiative. 10/28. Last access: 04/26/2022. -to-heal-and-save-mother-nature.



Javier Trespalacios - JT

Suforall - Sustainibility for all

08 mai 2022, Basel (Switzerland)

Women and sustainable development

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page