Take five: “Changing everyday habits will have an impact”


Milena Zindovic poses for a photo. Photo: UN Women/Elif Gulec
Milena Zindovic. Photo: UN Women/Elif Gulec

Milena Zindovic is an urban planner and gender expert and member of the Association of Women Architects in Serbia. Zindovic, with the support of UN Women studied current waste management practices in Serbian households to understand the role of women in both waste creation and management. The study will be used by UN Women to create targeted campaigns to raise awareness of waste management and climate action among women and their communities.

How are gender, urban planning and climate action connected?

For a long time, urban planning has been a gender-neutral discipline. Recently there has been a global movement to recognize that urban space is not gender- neutral. It's very gendered, and we can make it more inclusive, safer, and just better for everyone if we apply certain gender mainstreaming aspects to it.

To start, urban planners and designers need to think about all of the different people using urban spaces, including women and children and people with disabilities that may not be able to access these spaces [as they stand now].

And urban development is closely connected to climate change issues, because cities are among the biggest polluters. I think the right way to move forward in the field of urban planning and design is to look at all these things holistically.

What does it mean to mainstream both gender and climate action in urban planning?

A simple example of incorporating gender perspectives and climate action into urban planning would be: having more trees in cities! This will create more comfortable urban spaces by providing shade and cooling the spaces. Trees create shade for buildings, which lowers the amount of energy needed for air conditioning.

When you create a nice urban space with lots of trees and shade, at the same time you need to make it comfortable for people to use that space. When it’s shady and beautiful, people want to sit down. And when you think about benches, you need to think about who will be using it. For example, older people may need back support.

[You should also] think about other groups that are likely to spend time in these urban spaces—Like children, or mothers with young children. And that is how you start to take into account their specific needs. All these considerations should guide your design so that you create an inclusive space.

What is women’s role in waste management in Serbia?

We found that most of waste comes from food and food packaging and from cooking, which we know from previous research, is mostly done by women. Women are also the ones disposing waste.

The most important data that we got is that women are the most important change agent in every household. Around 70 per cent of women say that they are the person in the household who makes decisions about how waste will be managed. Women are pillars of these households and by engaging them, and targeting women specifically in awareness-raising campaigns, we can change everyday waste practices.

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to household waste management in Serbia?

The biggest challenge is motivating people. We have to explain the importance of certain practices and of climate action, regardless of the infrastructures or initiatives that are run by the State. We have to motivate people to start changing waste management practices within their households.

The lack of infrastructure is another major challenge. The infrastructure for better waste management doesn't exist yet, or it's underdeveloped. Knowing that, people are less motivated to do anything. They don't see the country or the society doing enough on this isse. So we are trying to shift people’s focus on their own personal habits. To think about what each person can do to lower the amount of waste.

What kind of climate action should people take at an individual level?

Climate change is real; it’s happening. We feel it on our skin every day. Without waiting for big changes, or for governments and big companies to do something, we should just do it ourselves. Start small. Changing everyday habits will have an impact.

There are simple steps that people can take every day—like reducing single use plastics. Use a canvas bag for shopping, a thermos cup for your coffee and a multi-use water bottle. Using less air conditioning can help the environment, so try to cool down your apartment or office in more natural ways, like opening windows or having more plants. And insulate your home better to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat it. You can also help by walking. Walk to school or to your office because using less cars reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Women and girls can use menstrual cups [instead of sanitary napkins] to reduce waste.