Image: Women rangers from the Akashinga group, Credit: International Anti-Poaching Foundation / Adrian Steirn and Damien Mander
So why is it exactly that women have a natural aptitude when it comes to conservation work? Research has shown that women are socialised to be more compassionate, caring and cooperative than men; characteristics which are transferred into environmental protection. Traditional gender roles also dictate that women in most developing countries are more likely to take on tasks such as collecting firewood, growing vegetables and tending to crops. Through these daily practices, women develop a deeper understanding of the role of trees, soil and water; three of the major global carbon sinks.
This knowledge is vital when it comes to mitigating global climate change and lends itself well to conservation projects such as sustainable forest management. Bina Agarwal, professor of development economics and environment at the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester, even found that forest committees with a higher percentage of women led to greater forest condition.
Nepal’s Terai Arc offers a valuable example. In this landscape spanning southern Nepal and northern India, local people depend on the forest for their livelihood, sourcing food, water, shelter and firewood. To protect these resources, the Mahila Jagaran Community Forestry User Group was created. Run solely by women, the project helps to regenerate overused forests, as well as sustainably harvesting wood that can be sold to generate income. The community is now able to manage several government-owned forests too.
“At first, they said women can't manage an entire forest on their own,” Jalpa Bistra, former president of the community group, shared with WWF Nepal. “But we continued planting. There has been so much growth now—we've not only proved them wrong but we've also surprised ourselves."
The WWF also found that compared to other women, those empowered in this way could then implement more conservation practices on their own farms back home. They would also understand the link between conservation and wellbeing and would likely participate in conservation patrolling and report more illegal activities.