Women Around the World Are Excluded From Decision‑Making About Environmental Conservation: Study
Women are systematically excluded from leading conservation efforts around the world, according to a new review of research into the gender gap in environmental science.
“We analyzed more than 230 peer-reviewed articles attempting to address this very problem, confirming an uncomfortable truth: women’s voices are critically lacking in conservation,” Melanesia Robyn James, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland who led the study, said in a statement. “We found that gender discrimination is systemic and consistent, from small and remote communities in places such as the Solomon Islands to large conservation and natural resource management organisations, where women are still underrepresented in leadership and decision-making positions.”
The Indian Forest Service inducted its first women officers in 1980. 40 years later, only 9% of the service comprises women (284 of a 3131-officer cadre). While many have achieved positions of authority, and efforts have been made recently to highlight the work of women forest officers, the disparity is still vast.
Similarly, women are systematically excluded from community management programs. In 2018, a proposed and long-overdue update to the country’s National Forest Policy contained no mention of prioritizing or even addressing gender equality or women’s involvement in environmental efforts. (The draft underwent some revision in 2019, after being criticized for ignoring forest communities and focusing too much on the economic potential of forests, and has since languished.)
Unfortunately, inequality “seemingly impacts conservation outcomes directly,” James says.
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James and team’s report cites research from India that found women’s greater involvement in forest conservation programs led to more equitable distribution of benefits and an increase in forest cover by 11%. Yet, related research in India suggests women are systematically excluded from forest management and denied benefits from conserved forest resources. This, despite women often being at the forefront of on-the-ground conservation and environmental grassroots movements.
“Why do women’s rights to forests … remain a secondary issue?” Sarita Katkar, a Katkari Adivasi from Maharashtra, posed to Purabi Bose writing for Scroll in 2018.
It’s a self-perpetuating, unanswered question, thanks to society’s larger gender norms that see women in the conservation field funneled into “interpretive, communicative and administrative roles,” the report noted, citing research from India. By contrast, men pursue research, fieldwork, and leadership roles. “We found that 70% of articles relating to gender and conservation had female lead authors, which suggests that these research questions are less likely to be investigated if women are not in research positions,” the report states.
Ultimately, the report’s findings reflect precisely how reflective forest management policies are of society’s broader inequities — whether gender-based or, say, community-based — and how well-positioned conservation efforts are to address them, if only they would.
“The failure to adequately address prevailing social norms echoes a broader tendency within the conservation community to pursue biological or nature-based and technical solutions without considering societal inequalities that exist where conservation is focused,” the report notes.
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