Woman wearing face mask in a polluted area. Photo: Ubanzon/ Getty

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), as in the rest of Europe and beyond, environmental issues are deeply connected with issues of gender (in)equality, social (in)equity and poverty (GESEP). In this Q&A we asked experts in environment and social equity – Belma Jahović, a GESEP expert at the BiH consultancy Enova, and SEI researcher Claudia Strambo – to explain why it is crucial to understand and address the interconnections between GESEP challenges and sustainability in strategic environmental planning, such as in the BiH Environmental Strategy and Action Plan, which is currently being developed.

Q: How do gender equality, social equity and poverty reduction relate to the environment?

B.J.: They are deeply intertwined. Socio-economic factors affect people’s exposure and vulnerability to environmental risks, with socially disadvantaged groups (such as children, the elderly, disabled persons, and Roma communities) being disproportionally at risk of negative impacts from pollution, climate change and natural hazards. GESEP issues can also play a role in generating environmental problems. For example, low-income households in BiH are more likely to drive older, high-emission vehicles, which are key contributors to air pollution.

GESEP issues are also relevant in terms of the capacity and willingness of people to address environmental issues. For instance, women tend to be more willing to reduce and recycle waste than men, due to social norms. One also needs to remember that solutions to environmental change are not socially neutral. For example, households with lower incomes may be relatively more financially affected by the introduction of environmentally-motivated taxes or energy efficiency standards than wealthier households. To summarise, integrating a GESEP perspective into environmental policymaking can help increase its effectiveness and fairness, while at the same time contributing to reduced gender inequality, social inequity and poverty.

Q: In what ways do gender inequality, social inequity and poverty contribute to environmental problems in BiH?

B.J.: There are various ways in which these contribute to environmental issues. For instance, economically disadvantaged households are more likely to use cheap and highly polluting fuels for domestic purposes. Also, environmental values differ depending on gender, age, income and education levels, suggesting that gender norms and other social factors may play a role in the public’s support of environmental policies. Including a GESEP lens in environmental policy helps in identifying these differences and thus designing more effective and fairer measures.

Q: Are there certain social groups in BiH that might be affected by the impacts of environmental issues more severely?

B.J.: There are a number of groups identified by various institutions, as well as in many strategic documents, as disadvantaged in BiH; they include children, women, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, Roma persons, refugees and displaced persons. These groups tend to be more severely affected by environmental issues. Now, it is important to remember that the individuals from these groups have multiple identities that intersect with each other: various characteristics, such as ethnicity, age, sex, income and education shape people’s exposure and vulnerability to environmental challenges in BiH.

While physiological factors may contribute to explaining differences in how people are affected by air pollution or exposure to harmful chemicals, social factors are, overall, much more influential. In BiH, high levels of unemployment and in-work poverty, discrimination against Roma and disabled persons, and the prevalence of conservative and patriarchal values all influence exposure and vulnerability to environmental issues.

For instance, Roma households are more likely to lack basic service coverage and to be exposed to pollution because they often live in informal settlements as a result of socio-economic discrimination. More broadly, the poor are more likely to live in polluted areas and have difficulties accessing adequate health services; they, therefore, tend to be more affected by the health implications of pollution. This can in turn affect working and learning capacity, thus limiting opportunities for improved living conditions through employment and education.

The differences in exposure and vulnerability were also made evident in 2014, when BiH suffered severe floods. The hazard’s impact on livelihoods was the strongest in the agricultural informal economy, where women make up a large part of the workforce. Disabled persons were also particularly affected, notably because of the lack of early warning systems, evacuation protocols and aid points accounting for their needs.

Q: How could environmental policy help address GESEP issues in BiH?

C.S.: Integrating GESEP issues into environmental policymaking can help reduce the exposure of disadvantaged groups to environmental pollution, harmful substances and natural hazards. It can also contribute to increasing the capacity of these groups to cope with the potential impacts of environmental issues and policy on their health, security and livelihoods. It is therefore important to identify how different groups in society may be exposed to and affected by environmental issues and policy responses. This can, for instance, be done by collecting disaggregated data, as well as actively listening to them and involving them in the policymaking process.

B.J.: At the same time, environmental policy can contribute to empowering disadvantaged groups by facilitating their participation in decision-making, and increasing their knowledge of environmental risks and health impacts through more targeted communication and awareness campaigns. It is also important to recognize, strengthen and build on the expertise and experience that certain population subgroups have about the environment. For example, in BiH, elderly women in rural areas may play a key role regarding the sustainable use of non-wood forest products, as they have traditionally been in charge of the collection, preparation and selection of fruits for drying.

Q: How are GESEP issues taken into consideration in the development of the environmental strategy and action plan (ESAP) of BiH?

C.S.: Our efforts have concentrated on involving GESEP experts in the elaboration of the BiH ESAP 2030+ and raising awareness about the interlinkages between GESEP and environmental issues among the stakeholders and experts involved in the project. Hence, we have reached out to NGOs and institutions that work on GESEP issues to both discuss the challenges and opportunities they can identify with regards to the environment, and to involve them in the project’s working groups, which provide the main inputs to the development of the BiH ESAP 2030+. In addition, we are preparing a series of written materials and a webinar to raise awareness about this topic among project stakeholders and to provide them with ideas of how to integrate GESEP considerations into the BiH ESAP 2030+ in practice.

Q: What are the benefits of incorporating a GESEP lens into the BiH ESAP?

B.J.: Environmental problems are a common concern of all BiH citizens, and when taking actions to address them, institutions in BiH should respect, promote and consider human rights, and the rights of persons with disabilities, children, local communities, and persons in vulnerable situations.  Incorporating GESEP into the BiH ESAP offers a way to understand and respond to people with different identities, needs and priorities, with an aim of enhancing social objectives alongside environmental ones. Moreover, integrating GESEP is also a practical strategy to better understand the reality on the ground, and therefore to design more effective solutions to environmental problems.


  • Belma Jahović, GESEP expert, Enova
  • Claudia Strambo, Research Fellow, SEI

Dr. Lisa Segnestam made valuable suggestions on how to clarify and improve the responses.

Want to know more?


The BiH ESAP project (embed link) will soon publish a report on gender equality, social equity and poverty in relation to the environment, where these issues are described and elaborated on further.


We are also organizing an online event on the topic, taking place on 5 May 10.00-13.00 CEST. Read more and register: ESAP webinar – How can a social equity lens improve environmental policy?