Why women are the missing link in protecting Earth's biodiversity

Why women are the missing link in protecting Earth's biodiversity

When decision-makers get together to discuss biodiversity issues, gender is not the first thing on their agenda. In fact, gender issues are generally not on the agenda at all. Yet, gender matters a great deal in achieving biodiversity objectives. That is, according to Marlène Elias, Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). CIAT is a part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global research partnership working to reduce poverty and hunger while improving natural resources. 

Elias is one of the co-creators of a new infographic, "Accelerating progress towards gender equality and biodiversity objectives," that explains how women are affected differently than men by biodiversity degradation and loss and have unequal capacities to contribute to biodiversity conservation. Gender dimensions are central to understanding and effectively responding to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. 2021. Accelerating progress towards gender equality and biodiversity objectives. Infographic. Rome, Italy: Bioversity International.

For example, in most developing societies, women gather firewood. If a decision is made to gather wood from one kind of tree rather than another, it can cause hours of extra work in finding and carrying that particular fuel. Men usually make a decision like this, and the burden of extra work falls on women. Similarly, women in Indigenous societies are generally more adept at identifying and using medicinal plants and herbs. Yet, decisions regarding those natural resources are often made without the women's input, to the detriment of all.

The infographic notes that in most parts of the world, women can access and work the land, but they rarely control it or have any say in policy or biodiversity decisions. To start documenting how different policies and land management practices affect men and women, it is also important to start collecting “sex-disaggregated data.”

Worldwide, we are now about 136 years away from gender equality, according to the new Global Gender Gap report put out by the World Economic Forum. That figure used to be 95 years, but the pandemic has pushed it back by a whole generation.

"While the overall picture is bleak, there are some bright spots," Elias said. For example, the CBD Convention on Biological Diversity has recently hired a gender coordinator for the very first time. “It’s a small victory, and now we need to see whether she will get adequate funding to do her job,” Elias explained. “These are small steps. But gender is not the only thing that is getting sidelined. Biodiversity is on the verge of collapse. We are on the verge of collapse, and we are not waking up to it.”

It is crucial to transform deep-rooted gender inequalities if biodiversity is to be preserved around the world. Gender inequities are not a side issue when it comes to biodiversity: they are at the very heart of the matter, and concrete actions are needed on multiple fronts to contribute to real gains.

Why women are key to solving the climate crisis
Join the One Earth Community

Subscribe to receive monthly updates on climate solutions, environmental heroes, and the profound beauty and wonder of our shared planet Earth.