Gender and Natural Resources

In the previous post we learned about Relationship Between Nature And Women. This post examines the connection between gender and the usage of natural resources.


  1. Introduction
  2. Environmental degradation
  3. Relation between gender and natural resources
  4. Women and Natural resource-based livelihoods
  5. Access and control over resources
  6. Gender and biodiversity conservation
  7. International recognition
  8. Gender and climate change
  9. Vulnerability of women to natural disasters
  10. Key points to consider in development programmes


Natural resources are used differently by men and women depending on their gender. The sociopolitical positions that are assigned to each gender are largely to blame for this. Gender has a big impact on how natural resource management is done, according to research. Women play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity, managing natural resources sustainably, and combating climate change. Future generations will be impacted by how negatively biodiversity loss and natural disasters affect women's health and wellbeing compared to men's. Since women have an equal, if not greater, stake in preserving the environment and implementing sustainable practises, it is crucial to recognise this. This module's sections address the various facets of the issue and provide a few illustrations of how women's participation has influenced change in both households and communities.

Environmental degradation

Early efforts at development were not considerate of the unique role that women played. Forest protection organisations sometimes criticised and even blamed women for deforestation when they collected fuelwood, fodder, and other forest goods. Forest guards frequently conflict with local women who want to graze or gather fuelwood from forested areas. However, it is now understood that because they are directly impacted by deforestation, women are sensitive to its implications. As a result of environmental degradation, women must devote more time to labor-intensive home duties. When collecting water and firewood, they must travel farther. Women and children are exposed to smoke as a result of a total reliance on the usage of fuelwood. Only if they are reasonably priced will they support cleaner fuels. Food insecurity in the home is caused by decreased fish, forest, or crop yields, and women are more likely than males to experience it. While their workload grows, the quality of their diet declines. Therefore, gender roles and relationships in families and communities might change as a result of the depletion of natural resources.

Relation between gender and natural resources

Gender roles specify how men and women carry out various domestic activities, control their finances to varying degrees, manage their time differently, have varying traditional and legal rights, and have varying levels of expertise. While women in most cultures have a variety of roles and duties, they typically have little ownership or control over things like land and property, education, technical skills, and market knowledge. Women and men experience development interventions differently because of their disparate circumstances, which impact their perceptions, priorities, and aspirations (Sarin et al, 1996).

Women (and girls) frequently show a larger sense of obligation than men toward providing their homes with food, fuel, and water. Although both rural men and women are essential to the management of natural resources, local biodiversity is greatly influenced by women's understanding, usage, and conservation of natural resources. Women often have lower ownership rights over resources than men in most socioeconomic systems (Rocheleau et al. 1996). In contrast to men's de jure (recognised by law) or actual ownership rights, women's rights are often de facto (based solely on facts) or limited to land use rights. The usage rights that women frequently enjoy are mediated by their interactions with men. A woman who is married has access to her husband's property. Women may lose these rights if they are widowed, divorced, or abandoned.

Women farmers who lack land rights security have little or no access to loans, making it difficult for them to invest in better conservation and resource management techniques. Poor rural women who lack solid land tenure frequently rely on common property resources for their household's food, water, fuel, and fodder needs. The livelihoods and food security of underprivileged rural women face a greater threat from the loss of common property resources than do men.

According to age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic position, natural resource degradation and disasters have varied effects on rural men's and women's livelihood options. Extreme measures, like male and female outmigration, are required when the natural resources are insufficient to support the population's way of life. Women frequently take on the traditional tasks and responsibilities of men when men leave the country, adding to their workload while denying them equal or direct access to financial, social, and technological resources (Lambrou and Laub 2004). Lack of sufficient natural resources is another issue that affects poor women in urban settings, particularly those who live in slums. Lack of fuelwood, dirty water, and improper waste disposal all make it difficult for women to cook, clean, and take care of their households when there are no natural resources available.

Because the majority of projects only target men, access to new technology, knowledge, and training linked to natural resource management remains heavily gendered. Many governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and development organisations struggle to adopt gender mainstreaming in agriculture and natural resource challenges despite numerous attempts. For instance, extension workers in the fields of agriculture and natural resources frequently speak exclusively to men in the mistaken belief that the men will pass the information on to their spouses.

Women and Natural resource-based livelihoods

The rural poor in emerging nations continue to be most reliant on natural resources for their food security and means of subsistence. More than 1.3 billion people rely on the availability of arable land, water, and plant and animal species for their subsistence. These people also labour in agriculture as wage employees. As a result, the livelihoods of rural poor people, especially those who live on fragile lands, depend on the state of the environment (World Bank 2005).

Due to their different roles in food production and provision, rural men and women have different needs, concerns, and priorities. Men typically exploit natural resources for commercial logging, farming, and fishing, whereas women primarily use them for survival. Men typically concentrate on growing crops that are intended for the market or for cash, but women frequently labour with subsistence crops, minor crops, and vegetable gardens. Women have access to a greater variety of crops. Men and women play complimentary duties in various situations; for instance, men clear land, women plant and tend crops, and men harvest and sell those crops. The guys are responsible for clearing the land in North-East India's jhum form of agriculture. However, it is the responsibility of women to make the majority of decisions regarding crops, varieties, farm management, and ultimately, the storage or sale of the produce.

While women might not have easy access to irrigation systems for subsistence crops and vegetable gardens, men use water for irrigation systems. Men typically take care of cattle and other larger animals while women tend to smaller animals like chickens, goats, and lambs. In many circumstances, women are also responsible for gathering animal feed, frequently relying on resources from shared property that are frequently in danger. In pastoral communities that are mobile, women travel with their families and help in all aspects of raising livestock. Due to their continual travel, they experience several difficulties, including illness and childbirth without assistance.

Access and control over resources

The most crucial elements in ensuring equity, as well as the protection and sustainable use of bio-resources, are generally considered to be access to resources and ownership rights. The current land ownership structure has an impact on the status, position, and power of women in the family and community. One of the most crucial factors that affects a woman's ability to negotiate and make decisions inside the household is her legal ownership of land. Along with storage facilities, one of the major problems with on-farm conservation is the accessibility of the seeds of traditional varieties. Household seed security and poverty are closely related (Balasubramanian, 2000).

Gender and biodiversity conservation

Women frequently participate in seed management, exchange, and storage, as well as the choice, enhancement, and adaption of regional plant species. They frequently keep home gardens where they cultivate conventional vegetable, herb, and spice types chosen for their nutritive, medicinal, and culinary benefits. As a result, women are crucial to sustaining biodiversity. The majority of wild food collectors are women. These foods are key sources of micronutrients for diets, which are necessary for a household's survival in times of food scarcity as well as potential sources of revenue. The fruits, gums, berries, and roots that the Kung women collect in the Kalahari Desert account for 60% of their daily caloric intake.

Wild vegetables are a significant source of income and food for sustenance in every region of India. Vegetables that are wild or uncultivated provide considerable opportunities for underprivileged women and men to make a living as growers and merchants without needing to make a sizable initial financial investment. In the Wayanad district of Kerala, Narayanan and Kumar (2007) listed 102 wild vegetables that the tribal women were familiar with (India). Women learn about the local biodiversity while performing daily tasks like farming, cooking, and other household chores. It is specifically transferred to other women in the neighbourhood.

Researchers and breeders have begun to pay attention to indigenous animal breeds and agricultural seeds that are created and maintained by networks of women. Large numbers of women have been active in programmes and projects for the management and protection of agrobiodiversity at the local level.

Women's creative use of cropping techniques has widened the genetic basis, whether they are aware of it or not. Italian millet and small millet are blended in the Kolli hills by female farmers in a single field or in a mixed farming scheme. In Jeypore (Odisha), wet sowing is used to combine seeds from cultivars with short and long durations (locally called myda cultivation). The second variety's green leaves and the early paddy's green leaves are harvested in July. The early January harvest of the late cultivar occurs when it reaches maturity in December (Source: MSSRF, Kolli Hills and Jeypore).

In accordance with current social conventions, women are in charge of the family's diet, health, and food security. Even though paddy and small millets are less profitable economically than other cash crops, they play a key role in their production. The Deccan Development Society collaborates with Sanghams, village-level Dalit women's volunteer groups, in the semi-arid regions of South India. DDS has established a Community Gene Programme, through which women cultivate and consume traditional forms of nutrient-dense millets like foxtail and pearl millets. They utilise marginal lands, turning them into productive areas that increase community nutrition levels as a result of the accessibility of wholesome foods.

The government of Nagaland, IDRC, and the Canadian International Development Agency all contributed funding to the Nagaland Environmental Protection and Economic Development project. Through the planting of multipurpose crops that improved soil fertility and raised household earnings, women actively participate in the improvement of fallow areas.

In the Nilgiris' Pudukadu village, indigenous women work in the Keystone Foundation's production facilities. While preserving the forest for its ability to provide ecosystem services, they wished to reap its advantages. They purchase non-timber forest products like honey, beeswax, and Nellikkai (also known as gooseberry or aanvla in Hindi, Marathi, and other languages), and they add value to them by producing pickles, soap, lip balm, and other things. Keystone Foundation donated the equipment and the training. Women participate in the Village Protection Committees, which buy forest products. The participant households' incomes have increased.

The women's cooperative Vanastree (Malnad, Karnataka) is headquartered in the highlands of the Western Ghats in South India. It is committed to advancing small-scale food systems, forest garden biodiversity, and traditional seeds and tubers. The agrarian villages here are a part of an ancient way of life where the wildness, spice orchards, paddies, and homesteads are tightly connected. Vanastree meaning "women of the forest" The social, cultural, and ecological fabric of the distinctive Malnad region depends on the work of women farmers and gardeners. Numerous food products are produced and sold by Vanastree. Additionally, it sells conventional seeds for home gardens of fruits and vegetables.

International recognition

In its preamble, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) affirms "the need for the full participation of women at all levels of policymaking and implementation for biological diversity conservation" and acknowledges "the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity." The Convention on Biological Diversity's article 8(j) and accompanying clauses provide a detailed framework for "participation of indigenous women." An open network of indigenous women interested in environmental issues, the Indigenous Women's Biodiversity Network (IWBN), was established in May 1998 during the fourth CBD Conference of the Parties meeting, held in Bratislava.

Gender and climate change

A study on "biofuels" such wood, agricultural waste, and dried animal manure revealed that these are major sources of soot pollution. Soot particles absorb light, raising atmospheric temperatures while lowering ground temperatures. These modifications might significantly alter rainfall patterns, potentially escalating floods and droughts. Even though soot has a very minor contribution to climate change compared to the usage of fossil fuels, it has a major negative impact on the health of women who work in rural kitchens. Women typically prepare food, thus their choices on cooking methods and efficiency can cut down on carbon emissions. Household members' low levels of education prevent them from being informed of mitigation strategies like the usage of energy-efficient equipment.

A rural community has been working with an NGO located in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, to combine clean fuel with income-generating activities. The construction of biogas plants, the raising of chickens, and the production of organic vegetables are all supported for farmers who raise dairy animals. Biogas generators create "biogas-slurry," a fertiliser that is rich in nutrients. This organic fertiliser is secure and beneficial for soil fertility and crop growth. Women are taught how to do this for backyard poultry and vegetable gardening. Slurry use on land is thought to increase crop yield by 15–25% when compared to chemical fertilisers. Poultry excrement can be added to slurry to enrich it. Slurry allows a woman farmer to save money that would have otherwise been spent on chemical fertilisers. This improves soil health and benefits the environment as well. By utilising the subsidies provided for biogas and cow insurance, the idea successfully converges with government initiatives. Additionally, it is supported by programmes that encourage the reduction of carbon emissions.

The NGO Women For Sustainable Development [WSD] aided local women and male farmers in Gudibanda Taluk, Karnataka, India, in planting mango, tamarind, and jackfruit tree orchards for harvest and carbon sequestration. The project encouraged the involvement of women in its decision-making procedures. When planning public forums, it takes into account the time and cultural constraints that women face. In order to sell the carbon credits, the initiative put up a test carbon marketing facility.

With an annual revenue of less than $100 on average, the farmers cannot afford to establish fruit plants without aid. The NGO also aids in this. The success of the plants depends on costly irrigation adjustments and planting equipment and methods. Until their crops are harvested, the farmers will subsist on the carbon sales from their mango plantings for the first few years. Four years after planting, fruit production begins, and one acre of crop will at least triple their annual income. The programme anticipates sustainable incomes for farmers, both men and women, as well as additional advantages associated with environmentally friendly farming practises.

Vulnerability of women to natural disasters

Another result of climate change is an increase in the frequency and severity of natural catastrophes (such as cyclones and droughts). According to data on disasters, women are more likely than men to perish or get injuries. Women also don't get timely warnings or other information regarding risks and hazards (Fothergill, 1998; UN, 2001). Women are disadvantaged by movement restrictions, dress constraints, and culturally prescribed roles and behaviours. Bangladesh experienced a hurricane in 1991 that claimed a disproportionate number of lives among women because of cultural restrictions on their ability to leave the home. Due to their lack of swimming or tree-climbing skills, more women than males perished in the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka. Women recover from natural disasters more slowly than men do. Women are at danger because of gender-based disparities in the distribution of food within the home, even after a disaster. Women's low political participation limits their ability to influence policies that affect their unique needs and vulnerabilities. Relief workers frequently see women as victims rather than as potential change agents, which reinforces gender inequality.

Key points to consider in development programmes 

  • At all levels, women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making processes involving climate change and natural resource issues.
  • Many natural resource programmes and interventions place a strong emphasis on women and community involvement. The design of participatory programmes must take gender equality into careful consideration.
  • Local elites, typically men, are frequently favoured by community engagement, yet elite women's concerns can directly collide with and supersede impoverished women's access to resources like water and fuel.
  • Rarely is gender the main focus of policy initiatives. Women's underrepresented status in local and global decision-making processes limits their ability to influence political choices that may affect their unique needs and vulnerabilities.

The following points must be considered while designing and planning a developmental work.

  • Without the permission and support of the men in their families and the community, women are typically unable to take part in civic activities. Men should consequently be more conscious of the value of women's contributions to the initiative and to the village's growth.
  • Women should be included in project planning, it should be guaranteed. Regular open-house meetings can promote greater involvement and transparency
  • To stress the significance of their involvement, women committee members must be assigned specific duties and made signatories to the bank accounts.
  • Equal pay for equal effort must be guaranteed, as well as equal employment possibilities for men and women.


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