Women and Wildlife Conservation
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TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Environment and Conservation; Climate Change
- Women and Climate change
Gender is a key component in shaping attitudes about conservation, and lack of attention to gender differences in perceptions can work against the aims of community-based conservation actions and initiatives.
Women play an integral role in conservation, with countless pioneering female conservationists working globally to save endangered wildlife. Women need to be equally and actively involved in processes to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity because they play critical roles as primary land managers and resource users, and they face disproportionate impacts both from biodiversity loss and gender-blind conservation measures.
Rural women’s engagement as farmers or gatherers of non-timber forest products place them in the front line in terms of their knowledge of the physical environment and natural resources and potential threats to their sustainability.
For example, while women in many countries are increasingly taking on responsibility for managing small-scale agriculture, they do not have an equivalent voice in decision-making related to land use, nor equal access to needed resources. Biodiversity loss also poses a disproportionate burden for women and girls by increasing the time required to obtain necessary resources such as water, fuel wood, and medicinal plants, which reduces the time they can spend on income generating activities and education.
Beyond equity, enabling women’s full engagement in biodiversity decisions is critical to ensure that biodiversity conservation and sustainable use efforts are successful in the long term. Without the contributions and buy-in of women and girls, these efforts risk overlooking the root causes of biodiversity loss, as well as potential solutions, and may continue to perpetuate gender inequalities.
The challenge of excluding women from Wildlife Conservation
The connections between gender and wildlife use are diverse and depend on particular economic, cultural and ethnic contexts. But women may not participate in conservation activities either because they are excluded from doing so by vested interests or because they do not feel empowered to speak out in their cultural contexts. This lack of understanding is highly problematic for conservation projects.
Also, women’s productive and reproductive unpaid work and their participation in decision-making have a direct impact in wildlife use by:
1) Making male labour available to hunt or fish at times when seasonal demand for labour in agriculture peaks and
2) Reducing monetary cost of family reproduction and generating alternative sources of income and supporting food production, all which might reduce pressure on wildlife.
Women’s particular roles and responsibilities within the household, community, and society lead women to develop unique knowledge related to biodiversity, shaped by their specific needs and priorities. They are thereby in a unique position to bring different perspectives and new solutions to addressing biodiversity concerns.
The other side
Today, women around the world are changing the trajectory of conservation. As the fate of so many species and habitats hangs in the balance, women are rising to meet global challenges through collaboration, compassion, and courage. Research shows that conservation projects achieve better results when they involve women in decision-making. Yet, obstacles such as gender bias, discrimination, harassment, inequity in pay, cultural constraints, and violence remain prevalent. The overarching and adverse impacts of these gender-related challenges are only recently being studied and more openly spoken about in the conservation realm.
Although women are professionally expanding their presence in conservation, they are often underrepresented in higher positions of leadership across the conservation world. In local communities, women tend to have limited influence around management of natural resources and protected areas. And in science, less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women, and those women are publishing less and getting paid less.
Yet, women across the world are underrepresented in decision-making positions related to environmental and sustainable development issues. Women also fall well behind men in achieving paid employment in natural resource management sectors – notably agriculture, fisheries, and forestry – in both developing and developed countries.
Furthermore, according to the OECD’s Social Institutions & Gender Index, laws or customary practices of around 102 countries still restrict women’s rights to access land. Without equal access to land and other key resources, women’s opportunities and capacity to play an active role in biodiversity conservation is severely limited.
The Way Forward
Measures are necessary to increase the representation of women in decision-making roles related to biodiversity and environmental governance at all levels.
- We need to mitigate both cultural and logistical barriers to allow women to voice their needs, knowledge, priorities, and solutions in relation to sustainable development – at the same level as men.
- Equal rights and access to ownership and control over land are also critically important for women across the world, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (targets 1.4, 2.3, 5.a).
- We must allocate our attention and resources to the local level, to ensure that projects and programmes are implemented in ways that address gender issues.
- We need to spread awareness among women and girls of proposed biodiversity-related actions that affect them, and we must build their knowledge about their rights and about their options for contributing to shaping those actions.
- We also have to ignite the full engagement and support of men and boys to enable empowered participation of women and girls in biodiversity conservation. It is critical that men and boys understand and support measures for women’s empowerment, to ensure that these measures will be accepted in the community.
An inclusive approach would also contribute to addressing the root causes of inequalities, through creating awareness and promoting long-term beneficial action.