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Gender Roles in Natural Resource Management

  • Published at 12:15 pm June 30th, 2019
Kelly Lacy

How men and women interact differently with nature

Natural resource management includes managing the ecosystem services and variations in biodiversity in a sustainable way. Indeed, natural resource management (NRM) programmes may affect women and men differently due to their rights, roles and responsibilities. Women and men have different unique roles in their communities that lead to different bodies of knowledge about the environment and themselves. 

When it comes to environmental protection and management, the gendered roles that exist are likely to represent different opinions, attitudes, priorities and power over resources. The roles and responsibilities of men and women determine the diverse influences on the decision-making process, how resources are accessed, controlled and managed in the community or society. Hence, for shaping the ecological change and feasible livelihood towards sustainable development, gender is understood as a critical variable element in achieving the global targets for a prospective future.

When it comes to gender divisions of labour, it varies substantially by age, race, ethnicity, economic status and marital status. Due to the roles of gathering resources like wood, water and forest products, or helping their male counterparts with farm labour, women have a unique understanding of the natural resources around them. 

However, women’s roles are often less visible than men’s and are not formally recognized as equally important. In most cases, men are engaged in crop production for commercial purposes, whereas women dedicate their time towards subsistence farming to feed their families. Subsequently, their use and management of water resources also vary accordingly. 

While men have ready access to water for irrigation purposes, women may not for their farming needs. Also, there are some cases, when both men and women play complementary roles. For instance, men cultivate the land for plantation, whereas women often take on the physical labour of planting and nurturing. When it comes to harvesting and selling the crops in the market, it is mainly men who are involved. 

So, it is apparent that besides performing their duties as caregivers such as raising the children or tend to the elderly, women are also responsible for supporting their households by providing food, fuel, and water, for which, they rely heavily on natural resources. 

Women’s role as managers, users and beneficiaries of natural resources is an often unexplored opportunity for increasing their contribution towards the country’s sustainable development. Studies show gender relations inform biodiversity management and conservation and, in several cases, women predominate—particularly in the management of local plant biodiversity in their roles as housewives, plant gatherers, home-gardeners, herbalists, seed custodians and informal plant breeders. 

However, as this conservation occurs within the domestic area and is a non-monetary producing activity, these activities are mostly invisible or undervalued within the society. If we consider the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the national decision-making for conservation needs to consider the vulnerable section that is highly dependent on resources for sustainable usage development. 

Thus, achieving the goal, particularly those related to sustainable use and to benefit sharing, will require much greater attention to women’s traditional knowledge, management and rights, within and outside the domestic sphere. 

If we observe various contexts, gender differences exist in rights and access to natural resources in most societies. The relationship with male members mediates the right to resources of the women. Thus, they have either fewer rights than men or sometimes they might lose their rights to resources if they get divorced or widowed. Farmers (both women and men) without secure land rights are bound to face difficulty, and they will have either little or no access to make investments in improved natural resource management and conservation practices. 

As women are often lacking secured land tenure, they often depend on common pool resources for wood, food or fodder collection. If these common property resources get degraded, it may pose a threat to the livelihoods of both men and women. In this scenario, women-headed households become more vulnerable in terms of accessing water, land and other natural resources. It is to be noted that the degradation of natural resources can further shift gender responsibilities and relations in a way that is unfavourable to women.

Challenges between gender analysis and natural resource management

There are gaps in knowledge and experiences for incorporating gender analysis into natural resource management research. The way in which social science addresses certain issues such as gender through exploring the voices and lived experiences of an individual, group or community, is not an approach often integrated into natural science. As gender is a socially constructed dimension, understanding the analysis through the lens of natural sciences is difficult and often overlooked. The refusal or inability to acknowledge the importance of gender issues is common, whether in research, decision or policy making. 

Space for gender inclusion in designing the Natural Resources Management programe

Men and women interact differently with resources, and both play a critical role in managing natural resources. However, women’s use, conservation and knowledge of resources play a critical role in shaping local biodiversity and protection of the same. That is why NRM programes need to consider the differences between men’s and women’s rights to access and control natural resources. Hence, active monitoring and evaluation are needed in this regard. Shifting gender norms in conflict-affected settings can be utilized to increase women’s participation in decision-making, and to enable them to engage in economic recovery more productively. 

It is necessary to recognize the value of and promote the inter-generational transmission of women’s traditional knowledge and practices. The involvement of women in the technical and institutional aspects of the project need to be clarified more to ensure new technologies and procedures are gender-sensitive and there is full integration into NRM programme efforts. 

Ignoring the role of women in resource management can perpetuate inequalities and grievances linked to natural resource rights, access and control, which have proven to be powerful catalysts for violence. Thus, it is required to address the issues of inequality related to resource access and ownership, participation in decision-making and benefit-sharing towards sustainable development.

The issue of gender often does not get the attention it needs in the policy making sphere. That is why, the understanding of gender issues and the inequities of social actors are required to better manage the natural resources, particularly against the threat of a changing climate. This would constitute active interaction and coordination between broader groups of stakeholders.

Thus, the need to create space for social actors to enhance the bargaining and negotiating power of marginalized and discriminated groups, leading to empowerment and transformation where they have more access to, control over and benefits from natural resources is more important than ever.

Tasfia Tasnim works at ICCCAD. Her working majors are climate finance, livelihood resilience and natural resource management connected to socio-cultural dynamics.

Ambalika Singh holds LL.M. in Global Environment and Climate Change Law from the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is Currently a visiting researcher at ICCCAD. 

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