Gender Equality and Biodiversity at UNESCO

Gender Equality has long been of central importance to UNESCO. Since its inception over 60 years ago, UNESCO has been at the forefront of efforts to support women’s and girls’ rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality through all its domains.

Biodiversity in UNESCO’s Gender Equality Action Plan

The UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan for 2008-2013 (GEAP, .pdf) provides a road map to translate UNESCO’s policy commitment to “Priority Gender Equality” into specific actions and outcomes. With regard to biodiversity, the GEAP invites UNESCO to foster “[g]ender-responsive approaches to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development” through the “promotion of effective participation of women in decision-making processes”. It also commits the Organization to highlight and showcase the “value of indigenous and local knowledge held by women” in biodiversity conservation.

The Gender Dimensions of Biodiversity

In the development and environmental discourse, it is increasingly acknowledged that the incorporation of knowledge and practices of both women and men is not only relevant but essential for sustainable development. In particular, the gender division of labour has resulted in women and men in many societies having different roles and knowledge related to biodiversity within their communities. However, while women are increasingly seen as embodying specific biodiversity knowledge and although an increasing number of experiences highlight the sustainable manner in which women use biodiversity, their role in biodiversity management and decision-making process is often ignored.

It is thus imperative to raise awareness of the gender-differentiated practices and knowledge related to biological resources. It is essential to recognize that women and men have specific needs, interests, perspectives and aspirations, and that they make different but equally valuable contributions to the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity.

Facts and Figures on Gender Equality and Biodiversity

  • Women have been recognized as users and custodians of biological diversity. In countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Viet Nam, Indonesia and India they are responsible for the selection, improvement and storage of seeds and management of small livestock.
  • Men’s and women’s knowledge of the forest is different because they use different forest resources. Women are more likely to collect berries, fruit, or twigs and small branches for fuel from a tree, while men will cut down the same tree to sell as firewood or for use in construction.
  • In a study in Sierra Leone, women could name 31 uses of trees on fallow land and in the forest, while men named eight different uses. This shows how men and women have distinct realms of knowledge and application for natural resource management, both of which are necessary for sustainable use and conservation.
  • Decision making is an important function in forest user groups and requires the participation of the whole community; however, forest projects have not been able to include women successfully. In Bamdibhirkhoria, Nepali women cannot participate because they are busy in their home gardens, and collecting forest products.

(Source: Lorena Aguilar, Gabriela Mata and Andrea Quesada-Aguilar, “Gender and Biodiversity”, International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2010).

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