Science & Technology

Challenges for conservation to prevent women from being left behind

Marilyn Gede and Moira Dasipio have spent more than 60 years surrounded by the South Pacific, but until recently they had never seen underwater. They have never experienced that surreal moment when your masked snorkeled face cuts through the surface of the sea and you face the noisy colors, shapes, and noise of healthy reefs.

Marilyn and Moira live in communities near the Solomon Islands’ first national park and biodiversity hotspot, the Arnavon Islands. These four small islands are home to vibrant coral reefs and the largest breeding ground for hawksbill turtles in the South Pacific.

Generations of international scientists have traveled there to study turtle biology, fish spawning, and coral reef ecology. These are all accompanied by a male ranger. However, local women like Marilyn rarely visited the island. And they couldn’t make a decision on how the park was managed.

Still, women accepted the protection, were proud of the Arnarvon Islands, and were asked to stop eating turtle meat to protect this endangered species. Women like Marilyn challenged this situation. Over the last six years, I have been honored to work closely with her and many others to establish a women-led conservation group, KAWAKI, to give women a say in decisions about the Arnarvon Islands. I will.

Marilyn’s situation is not unique. Review of over 230 peer-reviewed articles Confirmed the sad and unpleasant truth: Every woman is excluded from decisions on conservation and natural resources. The issue of sexism is that from small, remote communities in places like the Solomon Islands, traditional gender roles shape jobs available to women and affect conservation, nature management and science agendas. Systematically and consistently up to large-scale conservation and natural resource management organizations. ..

Kawaki women singing in the Arnarvon Islands. © Robin James / TNC

Existing social and cultural norms limit the protection of women..

These dynamics affect women throughout their lives. There is no single barrier to overcome. As Marilyn gained power and respect, she faced increasing resistance and discrimination, and men sought to limit her access to national parks. She was also accused of witchcraft (a dangerous claim in her culture) to minimize its impact on her community. This is a high price to pay for legitimate statements about how to manage resources. Many other women disappear from conservation activities when they get married because their husbands refuse to work outside the home. Women who resist often face violence and abuse.

It is important to recognize that these gender imbalances exist in the environmental groups themselves. For example, women often play a role in communication and management (focusing on so-called soft skills), while men are overvalued, including strategy, risk-taking, fieldwork, or leadership-oriented.

I apply for a leadership position because management felt that it was dangerous for women to travel to remote areas, or because my responsibility for childcare made it difficult for management to meet travel requirements. I stopped doing that. In stark contrast, my male counterpart was encouraged to take a leadership position instead, even though he had children of the same age and was often less experienced than me.

I found a woman on a boat in a tree
Women on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, are collecting firewood from mangroves. © Justine E. Hausheer / TNC

Women have different values ​​and manage resources in different ways.

Women have complex knowledge of many marine life, such as crabs and crustaceans, due to their role in collecting food from coastal fisheries in the Marilyn community. However, when women are excluded from conservation studies, the resources they depend on are either undervalued, under-researched, or not considered in conservation plans.

Our literature review also identified the tendency to exclude women and the important perspectives of women as resource managers. In Senegal and Africa, land and forest policymakers have been unable to exclude women from decision-making and understand and consider the impact of regional gender dynamics on the forestry sector. As a result, policies have had a direct negative impact on land access for cultivation, income and livelihoods.

Access to education is associated with involvement in conservation.

Globally, women are less likely to graduate from secondary school or go on to college. Analysis in Bolivia, Mexico, Uganda and Kenya shows that as education levels increase, women are more likely to be held responsible for representing households on forestry committees, and lack of access to education is a barrier to women’s participation. It was shown that it could be. In conservation and natural resource management.

NGOs also need to acknowledge that many minimum requirements for environmental protection and science work exclude women who do not have access to environmental protection science education, skills and training. If you do not understand and address these systematic barriers, only men will meet your requirements.

Woman sitting on a beaded bracelet and mat
Women in Samburu, Kenya, make traditional crafts as a way to diversify their income and relieve pressure on natural resources. © Ami Vitale / TNC

Women need to be meaningfully involved.

Attendance at a meeting alone cannot measure women’s participation. In many cases, women attend silently and men continue to make all decisions. For example, the conservation group founded by Marilyn faced permanent pressure to provide catering at conservation management meetings, while men dominated management committees, ranger groups, and international scientific research teams. Even more alarming, this review highlights other examples of NGOs creating “opportunities” for unpaid women without any benefit.

Comprehensive conservation must come from within the conservation organization itself..

There is a lasting perception that men should be decision makers and leaders in most situations, both within conservation / natural resource management organizations and in the communities in which they work. Studies show that men benefit from conservation more often than women and participate in conservation, and while these findings are well known, efforts to address the gap are limited.

We need to continually challenge this assumption that leadership status is best held by men. Without women in scientific research, leadership, or decision-making, gender-based discrimination and discrepancies are not even recognized as problems to be resolved. For example, less than 30% of the 230 articles analyzed in this review were created by men.

One beach for women and sea turtles
Kawaki members release satellite-tagged sea turtles into the waters of the Arnarvon Islands. © Tim Calver / TNC

theme of 2021 International Women’s Day It is “Choose to Challenge”. Women like Marilyn who challenge patriarchy and sacrifice personal safety to promote sustainable resource management in the community deserve our support. It is our responsibility to use our agents and privileges to continually challenge systems and structures that deaf or prevent women from hearing. In addition, we need to see behavior from male peers and leaders accelerate, increase, and sustain.

I will never forget the moment when Marilyn and Moira first saw the underwater world they were protecting. Their screams of excitement put their faces under the surface, fully dressed. Or the tears of our group when we see a freshly hatched turtle struggling from its nest and making a dangerous journey to the sea for the first time.

Today, these women continue to quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) challenge their awareness of what to do and what not to do in conservation efforts. They are now leading a strong and vibrant network of internationally recognized and changing protection women, both in the Solomon Islands and around the world.

They choose to challenge. We need to follow their lead.

Robyn James is a gender and equity advisor to The Nature Conservancy in the Asia Pacific region.

Challenges for conservation to prevent women from being left behind Challenges for conservation to prevent women from being left behind

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