Blog | 08 Mar, 2020

Strategies for integrating gender in sustainable ecosystem management

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are matters of fundamental human rights and prerequisites to meeting sustainable development goals around the world. 

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Photo: IUCN NL

This 4-part blog series sets out the benefits of (part 1) and barriers to (part 2) equality within sustainable ecosystem management. Part 3 zooms in on solutions, outlining best practices and strategies. Part 4 (upcoming) highlights examples of gender-responsive interventions. This blog sets out three strategies to increase gender equality and women’s empowerment in sustainable ecosystem management projects.

Understanding men and women’s different roles and responsibilities related to the use, management and conservation of ecosystems and addressing the barriers to gender equality are essential to ensuring sustainable ecosystem management. A project can contribute to gender equality through gender-responsive project design and implementation by identifying gender barriers and acting to overcome them.

Partners of the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS) programme recognize the value of gender-responsive project design, embracing gender equality and social inclusion as guiding principles in successfully safeguarding international public goods. The following are just three of many examples from SRJS partners on gender-responsive strategies in sustainable ecosystem management.

Raising awareness on gender equality and women’s land rights in communities in Tanzania

Women play a significant role in agriculture and natural resource management, but in many parts of the world, they do not have equal rights to own, use and control land and resources. Even when national legislation promises equal rights to land and resources between women and men, women may not know of their rights or may still be left out due to cultural practices and norms. This is the challenge for many regions in Tanzania.

ActionAid Tanzania in collaboration with Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT), Haki Ardhi and other community-based organizations integrate a wide range of activities that collectively promote gender equality throughout their programme. In complementary activities such as village land use planning and capacity development on land rights, gender is mainstreamed. One of the activities also includes awareness raising through village dialogues. Organised under the SRJS programme, these village dialogues aimed to empower women and vulnerable groups to exercise their rights to land by sensitizing men and women together about the issues.

SRJS activities conducted by ActionAid Tanzania and other SRJS partners have had clear impacts on villages, contributing to open discussion between women and men on gender roles and power dynamics and encouraging women to advocate on behalf of their rights. Catherine Mwasiga from Ilambila Village reflected on her personal empowerment from the activities, stating:

“After the training and capacity building I received from the SRJS initiative, I went back to my father and informed him about my rights as one of his children. I told him that I am entitled to a piece of land the same as my brothers, and I requested him to provide me with a piece of land. Fortunately, after the discussion my dad agreed, and I was given two acres of land.”

These dialogues have provided space for men to question and challenge their own beliefs and build their understanding on the benefits that come with equal land and resource rights. Julius Mwanakatwe from Kalaela Village admitted that he had a hard time accepting the idea that women should own land and be allowed to inherit land from her husband, but after the SRJS trainings, he has come around to advocate for equal rights, stating “I have now changed my mind and my behaviour towards women.”

It is apparent that these initiatives will have long-term impact on women’s empowerment, helping shift perceptions for entire communities. As stated by Magadalena Mininga of Nankanga Village:

“I can confidently stand and demand for my rights as I understand that I am entitled to buy, sell, own and inherit land regardless of my gender. Secondly, I also understand that all children have equal rights when it comes to matters related to inheritance, gender difference has nothing to do with entitlements.”

Empowering women in community movements for sustainable energy advocacy in Uganda

Oil and gas exploration can have a huge impact on a country’s economy; however, these industries can also have disastrous effects on communities -- from loss of livelihoods and biodiversity, to increased inequality and vulnerability -- especially when exploration and licensing practices are not transparent and accountable. Women in these communities face disproportionate impacts to their livelihoods and resource access, but they are often underrepresented or overlooked in advocacy spaces to influence policies and accountability mechanisms.

In Uganda, the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) is an organisation committed to empowering citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable, to be involved in the development and implementation of energy policies and ensure transparency and accountability in the use of energy resources. With the support of the SRJS and GLA-JET and programmes, AFIEGO is helping to meet goals on inclusive lobby and advocacy in safeguarding international public goods by supporting community movement building focused on cultivating spaces where communities can learn and build collective voice to advocate against oil exploration and licensing, especially in eco-sensitive areas.

AFIEGO’s approach to this has involved holding sensitization meetings to raise awareness of the environmental and health benefits of oil exploration and facilitating dialogues between district leaders, environment officers, religious leaders and community members. Diana Nabiruma from AFIEGO explains: “Building a community movement is important, as there is strength in numbers. Communities are the voters; they have the power. There is power in people”.

Women in particular took an interest in this topic, not least because they will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of oil and gas exploration. Diana illustrates: “Women are the life source. They are the ones in our context who provide food, water, need to ensure their families are safe, spend long times going to health centers with children and their husbands when they are sick. Women provide basic services to their families and these are impacted by oil exploration”.

AFIEGO has advocated for women’s involvement in community movement building, facilitating their roles as agents of change by empowering women leader’s clubs and women champions who played a key role in movements and shared messages and photo story brochures on oil impacts with other women, as well as local politicians. Angella Muhindo, one of the champions from Kasese District, has been reaching out to community members via churches, sporting events, markets, and parties and funerals, mainly targeting women, to tell them about the potential harmful impacts of oil and gas exploration. Reflecting on her experiences, she states: “If you educate one woman, she will tell many others. Women have power; we need to harness that power.” 

Strengthening capacity on gender and sustainable financing for community fisheries in Cambodia

In Cambodia, fisheries are central to many livelihoods and a vital source of the nation’s entire protein intake. While women participate in fisheries, particularly in processing and selling products, their opportunities to take leadership positions in community fisheries management are limited by pervasive cultural norms, and they often lack income independent from men.

Over the years, IUCN has been demonstrating the positive impact of sustainable financing models in Cambodian community fisheries, emphasising the importance of self-financing for community empowerment. Collaborating with partners under the SRJS programme, including WWF, the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP), the Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA), and the NGO Forum, IUCN has prioritised opportunities to share knowledge toward improving and encouraging uptake of these financing models.

In December 2019, these partners came together once again under the SRJS programme to coordinate a national workshop aimed at building capacity and sharing experiences for sustainable financing in community fisheries. This time with a goal of understanding how gender roles can influence successful sustainable financing and management initiatives.

The workshop brought together stakeholders from across sectors and decision-making levels, involving representatives from Tonle Sap and Mekong fisheries communities, government bodies, NGOs, donors and others. High level engagement from the Fisheries Administration (FiA), including extensive participation by the Deputy Director General who is responsible for gender as well as participation from organisations such as Conservation International (CI) which have long worked to strengthen opportunities for women in community fisheries in Cambodia brought a high level of awareness and expertise in gender consideration.

Highlighting gender considerations and the benefits of a gender-responsive approach in this workshop was very important, as a diverse array of stakeholders had the opportunity to develop understanding on these topics and learn from other’s experiences while collectively thinking of solutions. Participants emphasised the importance of this workshop as a convening event in feedback, noting it as a valuable opportunity to form connections and networks that had previously been impossible due to distance and other boundaries.

A key message from the workshop was the potential of sustainable financing models to positively benefit the livelihoods of women. Through discussions, workshop participants identified that value chain improvements in fish processing and marketing can increase women’s independence. Additionally, given their traditional roles in handling household money, strengthening their roles, skills and leadership in managing finances for community fisheries committees can help deliver better financing and conservation results while building their self-confidence.

Want to learn more about gender-responsive approaches?

Here are a few links for further reading and information:

This blog series originally appears on IUCN NL. It was prepared by the IUCN Gender Team and IUCN NL as part of the programme Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS), a strategic partnership between IUCN NL, WWF NL and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 2017, the IUCN Gender Team has supported SRJS partners to meet their gender commitments and goals in their work to protect climate resilience, the water supply and food security. For more resources on gender mainstreaming, visit the IUCN Gender and Environment Resource Center online.