Women in Nature

Celebrating women's achievements in nature conservation

Women gathering fodder in Nepal © Amit Poudyal/IUCN Nepal

Women gathering fodder in Nepal © Amit Poudyal/IUCN Nepal

Though women are recognised as important pillars in the development process, many still argue that they do not receive the same position, power and recognition given to their gender counterparts and posits that gender gaps still exist. 

“Although women make up about 50% of the population in many countries in Asia and the Pacific, their ability to participate in all aspects of society is often limited due to discrimination, societal restrictions, and a lack of access to education and job opportunities.1

Simply put, gender gap is defined as the disparity in treatment between women and men. It is a gender-based inequality, often rooted in social, cultural and legal norms and customs,limiting women’s access to resources and decision-making opportunities.2

Fisherwoman on the Southern coast of Thailand © Ana Grillo/IUCN Thailand

Fisherwoman on the Southern coast of Thailand © Ana Grillo/IUCN Thailand

Globally, the quest for gender equality continues as latest figures show a 31.4% average gender gap that remains to be closed, particularly in the areas of political empowerment and economic participation and opportunity. According to the 2020 edition of the Global Gender Gap Report, the overall global gender gap will close in about a century on average across the 107 countries covered continuously since its first edition.3

These disparities permeate through society, cascading in resource management, where women have limited or minor participation, although they play critical roles in relation to their natural environment.

In communities around the world, women spend vast amounts of time collecting and storing water, securing sources of fuel, food and fodder, and managing land — be it forest, wetlands or agricultural terrain. 2 

© NGUYENDUC Tu

© NGUYENDUC Tu

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, IUCN in Asia highlights three women that
have become agents of change in their communities and pushed societal boundaries to find their voices and their role in natural resources conservation.

"The world’s women are the key to sustainable development, peace and security.” - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Women participating in consultation workshop © Asim Jamal, IUCN Pakistan

Women participating in consultation workshop © Asim Jamal, IUCN Pakistan

Rising up to water access and governance challenges

Ms Sharmeen Murshid, is the Chief Executive, Brotee, a civil society organisation (CSO) in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh faces a very vulnerable position in terms of climate change impacts. Most of the country’s landmass is less than two metres above sea level. Approximately, 80% of the freshwater supply of the country comes from transboundary rivers - the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna. Access to safe, clean water is a major problem in Bangladesh, with more than 90% of the districts affected by arsenic poisoning.

Therefore, for Bangladesh, regional water cooperation and inclusive governance of water resources are critical to ensure the continued supply of fresh water for its citizen. Recognising these challenges, Ms Murshid dedicated her life to help the local communities, to conserve the rivers, to ensure the long-term water and livelihoods security of the local communities. Ms Mursheed is active on the numerous regional water governance platforms, and a Member of the BRIDGE GBM CSO Network, facilitated by IUCN, that supports cooperative governance of the GBM Basin and provides a platform for the dissemination of local water management practices and community challenges at the regional level.

“Water problem pervades society, as it does not only affects health, sanitation and nutrition. It also affects women, as they have the role of providing clean water for the family. Through Brotee and with the communities’ participation, we aim to make water access a realized human right in Bangladesh.”

Through Ms. Sharmeen’s leadership, Brotee has established measures for communities to access clean, safe drinking water. The organisation is also promoting the application of nature-based solutions, such as creation of wetlands for enhances surface water storage in the Arsenic affected areas.

Brotee is a centre for people's action research and youth movement aimed at strengthening community engagement in protection of nature for human well being.

Ms Sharmeen Murshid, CEO, Brotee Bangladesh © Brotee

Ms Sharmeen Murshid, CEO, Brotee Bangladesh © Brotee

Community-managed drinking water source established by Brotee © Brotee

Community-managed drinking water source established by Brotee © Brotee

Members of the community jointly building water impounding facility in Bangladesh © Brotee

Members of the community jointly building water impounding facility in Bangladesh © Brotee

Keo oudone Julamontry is the Deputy Officer of the District Office of Natural Resources and Environment, Champhone District in Lao PDR © IUCN Lao PDR

Keo oudone Julamontry is the Deputy Officer of the District Office of Natural Resources and Environment, Champhone District in Lao PDR © IUCN Lao PDR

Lao PDR Mekong WET project team © IUCN Lao PDR

Lao PDR Mekong WET project team © IUCN Lao PDR

Mrs Julamontry facilitating community activity © IUCN Lao PDR

Mrs Julamontry facilitating community activity © IUCN Lao PDR

Championing wetlands projects and mobilising communities

Keo oudone Julamontry is the Deputy Officer of the District Office of Natural Resources and Environment, Champhone District in Lao PDR.

Built upon a patriarchal society, Lao PDR’s government structure is dominated by men with few strong women who are going beyond their domestic roles. This is the case for Mrs Keo oudone Julamontry as she managed to climb the ranks in the District Office of the Natural Resources and Environment in Champhone District in Savannakhet province.

A traditional community, villagers in Savannakhet province are reserved, which poses a challenge to programme implementation. IUCN wetlands programmes found a champion in Mrs. Keo oudone. Her strong-will and dedication to work has facilitated many of the activities in the province. She also focused on women’s and girl’s, encouraging them to participate in activities and contribute to discussions, which enriched dialogues on wetlands conservation.

“What happens to wetlands affects every family depending on it, and any negative impact will be a burden to mothers who share the role of keeping the family nourished and healthy. We need to consciously include their voices and create opportunities for them to contribute their views.”

To date, Keo oudone serves as the focal point for all wetland-related projects in Lao PDR, connecting programme implementers and tirelessly supporting communities especially women to be included in the conservation narrative.

A landlocked country, Lao PDR relies on its freshwater resources for livelihood, food and other ecosystems-derived services. IUCN is currently implementing wetlands conservation projects such as the Mekong WET: Building Resilience of Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Region through a Ramsar Regional Initiative and the Climate Adaptation in Wetland Areas of Lao PDR (CAWA) projects. 

Building a team of strong female advocates for forests

Ms Sachin Gul is one of the most active members of the recently established Chilgoza Forest Conservation Committee member from Birir Valley, Chitral, Pakistan.

Chilgoza pine trees grow between 2000 to 3350 meters above sea level in the Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya region of Northern Pakistan. These Chilgoza forests are critical for watershed protection, soil erosion prevention and climate change mitigation. Also, this tree tremendously contribute to livelihoods of one of Pakistan’s smallest indigenous group: the Kalash, whose spiritual and daily lives revolve around nature.

The pine nuts are edible and oil-rich seeds harvested in autumn and early winter. Unfortunately, due to uncontrolled grazing, overexploitation, illegal wood harvesting and climate change among other factors, once beautiful chilgoza forests are slowly disappearing and economic perspectives for these forest communities with them.

Ms Sachin volunteered to join the Chilgoza Forest Conservation Committee as part the application of the application of the IUCN and WRI Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) for forest landscape restoration efforts to bring around 30,000 hectares of Chilgoza forests under sustainable forest management through active participation of the local communities.

''Chilgoza forests have always been an important part of our lives. We enjoy the nuts as well as all other products such as medical plants, mushrooms and honey. These forests are also home to many important species such as Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Lynx, the Kashmir Markhor, wolves and black bears. We, women and men from the community, desperately need to protect them and this is why I volunteered. I hope to inspire more women from the community, particularly, the young ones to join me and save our beloved Chilgoza forests.''

Ms Sachin has become a role model for many women in her community. People in the area have trust in Ms. Sachin Gul and listen to her when she speaks about forest protection and conservation of high value Chilgoza forest ecosystems. Increased participation of women is important for safeguarding ecosystem services and livelihood opportunities.

Ms Sachin Gul, member of the Chilgoza Forest Conservation Committee member from Birir Valley, Chitral, Pakistan © Li Jia, IUCN Asia

Ms Sachin Gul, member of the Chilgoza Forest Conservation Committee member from Birir Valley, Chitral, Pakistan © Li Jia, IUCN Asia

Women leading community meeting related to forest restoration project in Pakistan © Li Jia, IUCN Asia

Women leading community meeting related to forest restoration project in Pakistan © Li Jia, IUCN Asia

Women participating in consultation workshop © Asim Jamal, IUCN Pakistan

Women participating in consultation workshop © Asim Jamal, IUCN Pakistan

Despite efforts to mainstream gender equality in Asia, we still have high rates of gender gaps or disparity in treatment between women and men. These gaps act as barriers restricting women to access resources and participate in decision-making.

''This is why at IUCN, we ensure that our programmes will enable women to actively contribute and make a difference in conservation work. By providing safe space and equal opportunities to participate and be heard,women are now empowered to provide stewardship and become leaders for the environment and are now carving real niches in natural resources management''Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional Director, Asia and Director – Regional Hub for Asia-Oceania.

Upcycling workshop for youth in Odisha's Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary © IUCN India

Upcycling workshop for youth in Odisha's Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary © IUCN India