In view of the close relationship that exists between environmental problems and those of economic and social origin, it is impossible to separate the human and environmental dimensions of development, which are linked both by the aggregate effect of social relations and actions as they influence the natural ecology and by the impact of environmental changes on society.
There is a perception that, as the century draws to a close, global society is witnessing the exhaustion of a development style that is harmful to natural systems and fosters inequality among people. It is becoming increasingly clear that humanity must move towards a new style and a new concept of development based on the criteria of sustainability and equity.
The notion of sustainability has gradually broadened; it was originally applied in the biological and physical context, but has now come to imply the balance that must be struck between environmental, economic, political, social and cultural processes under a systemic, multidimensional view of development that incorporates intergenerational solidarity, social equity and long-term considerations as essential elements. The present document examines the evolution of the concept and the areas of agreement reached concerning it; the study also analyses the discrepancies between the views of different social actors and interest groups, primarily with regard to the actions and decisions that should be taken to achieve sustainable development.
Increasing knowledge about the ways in which women in different groups and sectors of society participate in development has highlighted the interconnection between gender, the environment and sustainability. In the transition towards the goal of sustainability, women have emerged as a force, not only in support of proper environmental management, but also in demands for better quality of life and greater social equity. Recognition of this contribution is reflected in the documents, declarations and plans of action that have emanated from international conferences held in recent years.
Although the women/gender/environment interconnection is a relatively new topic of interest and analysis, it is already possible to identify different theoretical approaches to the subject. Chapter III presents a critical review of the main tenets of 'ecofeminism" and the "women and the environment" model and concludes with a discussion of a line of thought that can be termed "gender, the environment and sustainable development", a model which could serve as the starting point for a new approach in the formulation of public policies aimed at sustainability.In order to design public strategies and policies and adopt instruments that reverse and prevent environmental degradation while at the same time fostering greater equity among the sectors of society, more information is needed about the situation of men and women and how it relates to the state of the environment. The study therefore concludes by outlining a conceptual and methodological proposal from a systemic, cross-disciplinary perspective, with the aim of improving diagnostic analysis and research on the interconnection between the gender system, environmental change and its impact, in the light of the countries' differing local and regional conditions.