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Alpine Convention puts equality on the agenda

May 17, 2017
With a women’s conference and a declaration, the Austrian presidency has placed a new topic on the agenda of the Alpine Convention – and raised expectations. But where do things go from here?
Image caption:
Representatives of mountain regions from all over the world attended the Women’s Conference held in Alpbach, Austria. © Robert Strasser

The Austrian presidency of the Alpine Convention boldly attempted a balancing act: the conference on “The role of women in mountain regions” held on 18 and 19 April 2017 in Alpbach, Austria, addressed the roles and issues of women from very different mountain regions. Women from the Alps, from Nepal, Bhutan, Argentina and Zambia were all represented, from the areas of agriculture, research, administration and civil society.

In her presentation, Marianna Elmi, Deputy Secretary-General of the Permanent Secretariat, stressed that “women play a crucial role in sustainable development”. They ensure that our knowledge of how to confront nature and society is retained and expanded, an especially important matter for mountain regions. But limiting women to such roles runs the risk of underestimating their potential. Women in many Alpine regions are already very highly skilled, meaning that they move away in search of work, for example.

As Secretary-General Markus Reiterer stated, gender questions do not in fact feature in either the framework convention or in the protocols. Now however this topic should be further pursued within the scope of the Alpine Convention, for instance in the next Report on the State of the Alps, which is to address natural hazards. “Women play an important role in this area and this knowledge should be reflected in the report.” The Austrian Minister for the Environment, Andrä Rupprechter, provided a further indication with a declaration submitted to the conference. It is also planned to discuss the topic at the next standing committee.

As an observer, Barbara Wülser – deputy director of CIPRA International – followed the conference with a critical eye. Limiting the role of women to that of advocates for change and sustainable development is a sensitive issue. “Are we not just reinforcing stereotypes in this way?” Or, in the words of conference chair Patti Basler: “We cannot speak about the role of women without also speaking about the role of men.”


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