What is Gender and Biodiversity?

Introducing gender

The term gender refers to the socially-constructed expectations about the characteristics, aptitudes and behaviours associated with being a woman or a man. Gender defines what is feminine and masculine. Gender shapes the social roles that men and women play and the power relations between them, which can have a profound effect on the use and management of natural resources.

Gender is not based on sex or the biological differences between women and men; rather, gender is shaped by culture and social norms. Thus, depending on values, norms, customs and laws, women and men in different parts of the world have adopted different gender roles and relations. Within the same society, gender roles also differ by race/ethnicity, class/caste, religion, ethnicity, age and economic circumstances. Gender and gender roles then affect the economic, political, social, and ecological opportunities and constraints faced by both women and men.

Linking Gender and Biodiversity

Considering gender issues in relation to biodiversity involves identifying the influence of gender roles and relations on the use, management and conservation of biodiversity. Gender roles of women and men include different labour responsibilities, priorities, decision-making power, and knowledge, which affect how women and men use and manage biodiversity resources.

For instance, due to gender differences in roles and responsibilities, women in rural Asia and Africa are usually the main collectors of wild plant food, while men tend to focus on harvesting timber and wild meat. As a result, women and men develop different knowledge about different species, their uses as well as how to manage them.

The roles and responsibilities of men and women in the management of biodiversity, and the ability to participate in decision-making, vary between and within countries and cultures. However, in most circumstances there are gender-based differences and inequalities, which tend to favor males. Stark gender differences are evident in economic opportunities and access to and control over land, biodiversity resources and other productive assets, in decision-making power, as well as in vulnerability to biodiversity loss, climate change and natural disasters.

To inform efficient policies regarding biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and the sharing of its benefits, we need to understand and expose gender-differentiated biodiversity practices, gendered knowledge acquisition and usage, as well as gender inequalities in control over resources. We need to consider the influences of gender differences and inequalities on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and the ways in which these differences and inequalities influence how women and men are affected by biodiversity policies, planning and programming.