Conservation Now: Blogging from IUCN 2016

How to Better Integrate Gender into Resource Management? Ask the Women!

By Elizabeth Matthews
September 6, 2016

[NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of blogs by WCS staff at the IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place September 1–10 in Honolulu, Hawaii]

Local people in countries around the world are increasingly involved in managing forests and coastal fisheries, which they depend upon for food, resources and livelihoods. Yet in rural communities, men and women use forests and fisheries resources differently. In forests, men may focus on timber and profitable non-timber forest products, while women are more likely to focus on firewood and fodder for animals.

In fisheries, men may focus on offshore and high value fisheries that require gear or boats to access, while women are more likely to collect invertebrates and small fish from inter-tidal areas and process and market fish caught by men. This gives men and women different needs, priorities, knowledge, and uses of the environment. A project that seeks to curb fuel wood use will have a different impact on women than on men.

In 2012 a study of 2,360 of the largest companies globally found that, over a 6-year period, companies with women represented on their Boards of Directors had better financial performance than companies with men-only boards.

Likewise, there is also evidence indicating that when community resource management groups include a mix of men and women, there is stricter rule-making and compliance; greater transparency and accountability; better conflict resolution; increased patrolling and enforcement; or greater equity of access to resources. All of which leads to regeneration of local resources and more equitable and sustainable resource use.

Yet women in the rural communities we work with often have minimal voice in the governance of these resources. Why is this? Women are often present in community meetings, but they may not speak out due to cultural or social restraints. Or community meetings are held in places or at times that make it difficult for women to attend.

People in charge of projects may not see there actually is a problem. Project staff, especially in fisheries activities, are predominantly men, and they naturally and culturally may gravitate towards the issues and people they can engage most easily with.

Often, project leaders do not feel they have the time or expertise to conduct a formal gender analysis as part of the project design. But it is possible, and often not very difficult, to find ways to explicitly catalyze women’s participation in forest and fisheries management.

And while local gender expertise is helpful, NGOs can play a role here to facilitate discussions and provide access to information or techniques. There are guidelines already designed that can be used to gain a better understanding of the gender context of an area and sector. Here at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, important discussions on this work have been led by Craig Leisher of The Nature Conservancy, Kame Westerman of Conservation International, and Cate Owren from IUCN.

We can look for opportunities to integrate women more actively and conduct study tours for men. Seeing places where women have already joined a resource management group can help men see how they work. We also have separate conversations and meetings with women to ensure their voices and concerns are heard. We can identify or create incentives for women to participate — for instance by providing childcare and training to make them more available, or by requiring that at least 30 percent of the spots for a given local training go to women.

Gathering information, identifying barriers to participation, and developing culturally appropriate actions and activities to overcome those barriers is what the resource management community already does in community-based management. Adding a gender lens to this should not be difficult. All we need to do is ask the women.

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Elizabeth Matthews is Assistant Director of the Marine Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

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