Championing the role of women in the green economy

This year’s UN observance of International Women’s Day theme of ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, recognises the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all.

For the past decade, BVRio has worked to develop and promote market mechanisms in support of the green economy, with social inclusion a core BVRio value. We believe everyone should benefit from the green economy and we seek to support the most vulnerable people working in the sectors we focus on.

Supporting women in the informal waste sector

Data regarding the number of waste pickers globally is unreliable at best, but since 2002 WIEGO – Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing has been collecting data on waste pickers in Brazil, which provides a picture of how things are in one of the most developed informal waste industries in the world. In 2019 women made up a third of the total workforce, around 84 thousand. *Source – Waste Pickers in Brazil: A Statistical Profile | WIEGO

Starting with the development of the Reverse Logistics Credits system in 2012 in association with the National Association of Catadores, which was designed to connect primary producers with the waste management industry, BVRio has continued to create and promote market mechanisms designed to support this sector.

In 2020 BVRio launched the Circular Action Hub, a platform connecting informal waste workers, through cooperatives and initiatives, across the world with organisations looking to support the recovery and recycling of waste, much of which comes directly from the environment. Many of the projects supported by the Hub are female-led or rely predominantly on female workers.

We spoke to some such projects about the challenges they face as women and their ambition and hopes for the future.

“Co-operative is a space to promote sorority”, says Iara Meiri de Melo Moura Silva, 40, mother of two, began working in the recycling market over 20 years ago with her mother, who came to Rio de Janeiro from the Northeast at 17 years old. Iara is one of the female leaders in waste collector cooperatives in the State of Rio de Janeiro, in the Beija Flor Cooperative. Behind the love for the profession, there is always a story of great strength and inspiration from the family that, in general, works unitedly, teaching the craft of collecting and sorting to other generations. Read Iara’s story.

“Recycling was a job opportunity in the neighbourhood of Jardim Gramacho, where almost 40,000 people depended on rubbish for a living. Whole generations lived off the dump for more than 30 years. More than 10,000 tons were dumped every day in the largest dump in Latin America.” Cooper Ecológica’s co-founder Clarisse Aramian. Read Clarisse’s story.

Born into a traditional family of waste pickers in Rio de Janeiro, Glória de Souza dos Santos, 45, has worked for over three decades in the recycling market. She was brought up in Laureano, a neighbourhood of Jardim Gramacho, the largest “recycling centre of the State of Rio de Janeiro”, where together with her mother and brothers she learnt the complex task of sorting dozens of materials that arrived at the “controlled landfill” in the municipality of Duque de Caxias. Gloria is an inspiring woman and a great leader in the community where she lives and founded the cooperative ACERJ in 2019. Read Gloria’s story.

Gláucia Souza, the community leader in the Fishing Village Z-10, is currently involved in our ocean plastic recovery project funded by the Italian company, Ogyre, in Rio de Janeiro, and commented about this years’ International Women’s Day theme:

“I wish we had more women in leadership and that companies were more flexible when listening to their female employees. It is necessary to trust women with their work and value the potential of each one to end inequality. Women are conquering their space and I thank all-female waste pickers who participate in this journey. I feel honoured to be part of this opportunity with Ogyre in partnership with BVRio. In our fishing village Z-10, we can prove that women have strength, have a voice, have competence and guts.”

Female artisans driving the bioeconomy

BVRio’s long history of supporting forest conservation and responsible timber trading led to a focus on supporting forest artisans, and a number of recent initiatives have supported growing bioeconomy businesses operating within the Brazilian Amazon.

Valdirene Cardoso dos Santos is a furniture maker at Wooden Manufacturer ‘Anambé’, in Belterra, State of Pará, who participated in one of BVRio’s Design & Sustainable Wood Initiative training projects delivered by Designer Alessandra Delgado, and commented:

“This new experience has changed everything in my life, because before I didn’t have a household income the way I do now. So, practically everything has changed, including my routine. For me it is very rewarding, I come to work with joy, with enthusiasm, this is what I like to do”. Watch the full story on our Youtube channel (video is in Portuguese, auto-translate captions available)

We spoke to some of the female-led businesses showcased on our AmazoniAtiva website:

“Entrepreneurship awakens the true potential latent in each one of us. To believe is always the first step towards the materialisation of our objectives. Us women are capable of making a difference. May we be agents of transformation. We women from Saboaria Rondônia, work in the front lines, in a rural community where we mobilise other women to validate the ability that each one brings and, in a synchronous way, leave a record of what we have done to improve our world. Women, you are all capable. Believe, seek to materialise your dreams. We can always be like the hummingbird at the forest fire: no matter how small the water drop we throw, we will certainly be making a difference”, says Mareilde Freire de Almeida, founder and partner of Saboaria Rondônia.

“I think that the biggest challenge is to avoid polarising and dividing society between men and women. I want everyone to value family and education. In my view, the important thing is to strengthen the human being.” Zezé Freitas, entrepreneur and pharmacist at Ekilibre Amazônia.

BVRio’s own diversity in sustainability champions

Much of BVRio’s work is linked to climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, and our staff value the opportunity to contribute to this area. Supporting gender equality within our own organisation is an operational priority and we are proud to say our current gender balance is 50/50 across all roles, including Director level positions.

We asked our staff what changes they would like to see made over the next five years to improve gender equality?

“During our decade of operations I’ve seen first hand the difference diversity, and in particular female representation, has on decision making, yet all too often I find myself discussing environmental mitigation in rooms which are predominantly male, and I hope this will not continue into the next decade.” Pedro Moura Costa, Chairman.

“It is a fact that women lack representation in many areas of decision making and production of knowledge. To tackle the most pressing environmental challenges of our times, we need more women in these areas because by excluding half of humanity we are all losing out on potentially transformative insights.” Isabela Núñez del Prado, Land Use Analyst

“I’d like to see more diversity around the table when it comes to public decision making and policy setting, including regarding climate change adaptation, mitigation and response. To me, appropriate representation seems like the easiest and quickest route to creating equality not just for women, but for all. Hand-in-hand with poor representation goes data bias, so I’d like to see significant improvements made in this area too.” Lucy Cox, Director of International Communications.

“Closing the gender gap in the world of work is a key to accelerating sustainable economic growth. Women’s economic empowerment means an increase in productivity and economic diversification. For organisations and countries to achieve sustainability and advance economically, it is essential to establish a policy framework that integrates gender into green industry policies, to capitalise on women’s untapped potential as leaders, entrepreneurs, and industrial professionals in the green economy.” Ludmila Girardi, Communications Officer.