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Women’s Effectiveness in Natural Resource Management
The last two centuries saw significant headways in the fight for women’s rights. Whereas for much of history women were confined to the domestic sphere as wives and mothers, women today have access to education, employment, and political participation. Many societies, particularly in the West, have also ceased viewing women as the property of men and have asserted women’s rights. But while conditions are certainly far better for women today than they were just a hundred years ago, there remain many challenges that prevent women around the world from optimizing their potential. Almost every field is affected by this problem including the field of natural resource management, where women’s contributions are often overlooked, limited, and underutilized. This problem often stems from the prevalence of long-standing myths about women’s inefficiency, and these myths should be dismantled in order to leverage women’s contributions to natural resource management and thereby enhance the overall effort to curb current environmental challenges.
Women and Natural Resource Management
Women have always been considered crucial elements in the management of natural resources. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women or UNWOMEN (2013) identifies women as having great potential for promoting the protection, conservation, and sustainable consumption of natural resources. More than this, the UNWOMEN also notes that women can play a role in peacebuilding, especially since there are intricate intersections between conflict and environmental degradation in the developing world. The vital role of women is based on their long-standing relationship with the natural environment. Women have always been in touch with natural resources. They have always worked in the agricultural sector, utilized water resources, and engaged in a variety of other activities that harness nature (Joshi & Bhardwaj, 2015). Including women in the broader discussion of natural resource management, however, has many benefits. For one, including women brings in a vast wealth of knowledge, insight, and experience. Women have collectively acquired a deep understanding of the needs of the environment, and this knowledge, in turn, can be used in the formulation of policies and plans that can greatly improve how natural resources are harnessed. For another, women are also among the most vulnerable populations in terms of environmental issues including the effects of global warming . They are among the first to suffer from environmental disasters. Including women will help empower them and uplift their quality of life (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2020).
As mentioned earlier, women are key players in natural resource management. They have always been portrayed as the foremost participants in interacting with the environment. But gender mitigates against women’s greater potential in their role as key players in environmental resource management. One of these is unequal political participation. Countless women in the developing world still suffer from a lack of opportunity to contribute to the shaping of public policies. For instance, a case in Aceh in Indonesia shows how women are often left behind when policies are created. Upon the cessation of conflict in the region, local communities began utilizing farmlands by planting cash crops. But women benefitted from these efforts. A similar case is Papua New Guinea’s efforts at establishing land agreements. As women were not included, the changes mostly benefitted men (Kamdar, 2015). These examples are only a few of the many cases where natural resource management was beyond the reach of women, resulting in this group benefitting very little from the utilization of such resources.
Lack of political participation, in turn, can be further traced back to the prevalence of patriarchal systems that place less value on the competencies of women. Long-standing traditions create separate spheres for men and women. Whereas men are seen as economic, social, and political leaders, women are seen as nurturers whose place is in the home. Women are perceived as lacking the qualities necessary for managing resources including organizational, managerial, and leadership competencies. For this reason, women are prevented from receiving comprehensive education that could actually prepare them for broader roles in natural resource management. It is important to note that this problem is not confined to the developing world. Women also continue to suffer from discrimination in the modern world , with many having to contend with issues like the gender pay gap that causes women to earn less than their male counterparts and the phenomenon known as the glass ceiling which prevents women from climbing higher up the corporate ladder. Such misperceptions of women hamper their growth despite efforts at promoting inclusivity, equity, and, and diversity in the workplace . But the issue of women being seen as inadequate leaders is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are other far more severe forms of sexism and misogyny. For instance, women still lack complete control over their bodies, as exemplified by the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade which effectively invalidated women’s right to abortion . In the developing world where climate justice and environmental sustainability face more hindrances, patriarchy imposes more barriers to including women and optimizing their abilities.
What Can Be Done
Optimizing the role and contributions of women in natural resource management must begin with dismantling the barriers that women face. It is essential to note that women’s lack of participation in this field, particularly when it comes to leadership and policy-making, is just a symptom of the problem. To remedy this, change must target the roots by giving more opportunities for women to receive the necessary education and training. More than that, there has to be a change in societal perspective and a shift in culture. Women need to be seen not only as capable in the domestic sphere but rather as equals to men. They need to be viewed as equally capable and possessing the essential competencies. Only by dismantling the patriarchy that relegates women to subordinate positions can their potential as natural resource managers be realized.
Climate change along with the ever-increasing demand for natural resources is making the pursuit of sustainability more difficult than ever before. While there is an extensive global effort to promote sustainable natural resource management, the yield is far less than expected, and one reason behind this is the failure to optimize the potential of women to contribute. Despite the fact that women have been working with natural resources, they are seldom given a voice and power to actually shape policies, a problem that can be traced to the prevalence of misconceptions about women’s abilities in a deeply patriarchal society. Promoting women’s participation and leadership in natural resource management, therefore, must center on dismantling systemic barriers. Only by pursuing a cultural shift and advancing more opportunities for women can their potential be optimized.
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Joshi, K. & Bhardwaj, N. (2015). The importance of women in natural resources management. India Waterportal. https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/hill-women-and-natural-resources-management-role-social-participation
International Union for Conservation of Nature. (2020). Gender and natural resource governance: Addressing inequalities and empowering women for sustainable ecosystem management . https://genderandenvironment.org/gender-and-natural-resource-governance-addressing-inequalities-and-empowering-women-for-sustainable-ecosystem-management/
Kamdar, P. (2015). UN report highlights women’s roles in natural resource management during and after conflict . New Security Beat. https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2015/01/report-highlights-womens-roles-natural-resource-management-conflict/
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. (2013). Women and natural resources: Unlocking the peacebuilding potential . https://global.undp.acsitefactory.com/sites/g/files/zskgke326/files/publications/WomenNaturalResourcesPBreport2013.pdf
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