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International Women's Day: The role of gender in conservation

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “Choose to Challenge”. So we thought we’d choose to challenge ourselves and think about the role of gender in conservation to ensure our projects support the best possible outcomes for everyone involved. The conservation movement recognized the importance of building societal needs into project planning a couple of decades ago now, however how gender-based nuances are incorporated is still an ongoing challenge. There is a careful balance to tread between supporting gender equality without inadvertently causing additional segregation or issues. In this blog, we will have a look at a few of the barriers to gender equality in conservation and how we can help address them.

Team members and local students with a Forest Healing Foundation tree

Firstly, why is gender important in conservation anyway? Aside from helping to build equality being a moral thing to do, there are countless examples of the importance of considering gender to conservation success. Men and women bring different priorities, different perspectives and different knowledge to the table, and they use natural resources differently. This means that if conservation decisions are made predominantly by one gender and not the other, they will nearly always be made based on incomplete information. In India and Nepal, a literature review by Leisher et al. (2016) found strong evidence of the importance of including women in forest management groups for conservation success. In a project supported by IUCN’s Global Gender Office, the inclusion of gender-related issues in the project design resulted in an incredible 45 new species being identified that had not previously been noted in the Amazon region of Colombia, simply due to accessing different knowledge of species (IUCN SOS, 2018).


Nihal speaking to a men's group in the village

So gender inclusion is important for success, however ensuring equality in conservation decision-making can be harder in practice. Historically men have been the main decision-makers on environmental matters, although cases of course also occur where the opposite is true. Even thinking about how we consult with stakeholders is important here. In our local area, the men often meet in more formal men’s groups or committees, whereas the women communicate more frequently and more informally around the village. Consultations need to take place with both groups and in a way that is both culturally and logistically appropriate, e.g. arranging a meeting at school pick-up time would likely result in lower attendance from women with children as they often pick them up. The meeting environment needs to be designed to ensure attendees can feel confident to speak up – both women and men in our local area can often be shy about speaking publicly in particular situations so the settings need to be well thought-out.


Similarly, when it comes to implementing and managing conservation initiatives there are a number of gender-specific barriers. In Central and Southern Asia in 2019, 62.1% of agricultural workers were women but women made up only 11.6% of landholders (UN Women, 2019). Without ownership rights, it can be harder to gain a seat at the table and implement changes. Adding new workload on top of existing priorities can also increase gender-related burdens for both men and women if not designed appropriately. A local paper upcycling initiative near us in Digana, called I Am Upcycled, manages this really well. They provide flexible employment opportunities for local women by creating half-day schedules and facilitating babies to be brought into work to help the women manage their childcare priorities.


The really worrying part though is that if we don’t get conservation initiatives right now, we also run the risk of gender equality issues becoming worse in future. IUCN (2020) notes that environmental degradation, environmental crime and environmental activism have all been linked to increased gender-based violence. A more resource-stressed world could also be a more gender-divisive world, so inequality can be both a barrier to conservation success and an outcome of its failure.


Building new water infrastructure to protect crops from heavy rains

What does this mean for us as conservationists? How do we address these complex challenges? Here are three key steps we can take:


1. Educate ourselves

The great news is that there are loads of tools out there to help manage gender issues in conservation. Conducting a gender analysis in the early stages of the process can help identify relevant gender issues from the outset and ensure they are addressed throughout the project. Asking specific questions about how topics might impact men and women differently and monitoring gender-specific targets or indicators can also be really helpful. Conservation International has a fantastic page on men and women as partners in conservation, including guidelines for integrating gender into conservation, and Flora & Fauna International has a useful checklist of questions for project managers to think through when initiating projects.


2. Implement inclusivity

After reading up on the different tools and approaches available, we can select the best fit for use in our specific projects. Adding gender considerations to each stage of the project cycle and recording learnings to ensure we continue to develop our approach is something that the Forest Healing Foundation team are committed to delivering. Plus, gender isn’t the only social barrier we need to be thinking about; age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, language and other factors are all worth bearing in mind when designing projects.


3. Choose to challenge ourselves

It might be the theme for today but choosing to challenge is a good mantra for every day in the forest. Challenging ourselves on how we can do better for every single member of the community is key to successful conservation and making real progress.




References

IUCN, 2020. Issues Brief: Gender-based violence and the environment. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.


IUCN SOS, 2018. The importance of gender equality in conservation interview. Accessed: 07.03.2021. https://www.saveourspecies.org/news/importance-gender-equality-conservation-interview


Leisher et al. 2016. Does the gender composition of forest and fishery management groups affect resource governance and conservation outcomes? A systematic map. Environmental Evidence. 5,6.


UN Women, 2019. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Gender Snapshot 2019. New York: United Nations, p.18.

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