Biodiversity, gender and climate change
Climate change influences the rich variety of life on earth, and even small changes in climatic conditions can have extensive consequences for biodiversity. A number of climate change impacts on biodiversity have already been observed and are expected to increase in the future: species shifting habitats, changes in distribution and life cycles, reproduction timings and growing seasons for plants, as well as the development of new physical traits. Due to the drastic effects of rapid climate change, many species will be unable to adapt. Addtionally, the effects of human interference in ecosystems – such as over-harvesting, pollution and the introduction of invasive species – reduce the resilience of ecosystems and thereby render the environment more vulnerable to the threats of climate change.
The gendered division of labour influences the way resources are used and where the benefits of these resources flow. Men’s and women’s different roles in family and community in terms of labour, property rights and decision-making processes generate different knowledge and skills in relation to biodiversity and ecosystems. Rural populations living in poverty in the Global South depend on natural resources to meet 90% of their needs. Further, about 80% of the world’s population depends upon traditional medicine to meet basic health needs.
In many places, women’s traditional role as household managers relies on biodiversity. Women’s responsibilities in relation to food and medicine, housing material and livestock are dependant on local natural resources. Women collect plants and animals to feed their families, provide medical treatment and supplement the family income. This requires specific knowledge about natural resources – for example, information about which species of plants and animals are edible, what they can be used for, how they should be prepared, and where and when to find them. Thus, women can be particularly affected when biodiversity is destabilized as a result of climate change.
Successfully conserving biodiversity depends upon the active involvement of local and indigenous communities and on promoting gender equity, as different studies have shown. Projects that integrate both of these factors are not only more effective and balanced; they also strengthen the social formation of communities.
Groups such as Diverse Women for Diversity have coined the term "biopiracy" to describe the extracting, patenting and selling of women’s local knowledge for the benefit of industry and research institutions. Processes that involve and enhance cycles of exploitation, commercialization, biodiversity deprivation and poverty undermine women’s knowledge and status. The access to and control over resources thereby linked to women's struggle for autonomy and sovereignty.
Men and women have different needs, interests, knowledge, and behaviour that shape conservation initiatives. This is an important aspect to consider when designing projects, conducting appraisals, allocating budgets, and analyzing sensitive indicators to evaluate project performance.
Due to widespread traditional gender discrimination, women’s experiences have been excluded from decision making and most representational venues. Accordingly, women’s knowledge and skills in managing natural resources and biodiversity are poorly considered and represented in the public domain / in democratic processes.
Unlike the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity mentions women’s roles. Nevertheless, its implementation requires a greater focus on gender.
Greater recognition must be given to the role of women in natural resource use, management and conservation.
There is a need to include women in all efforts to conserve biodiversity. The importance of the knowledge possessed by women, including their right to use local plants and other natural resources, must be recognised. How can we prevent such knowledge – which is currently largely unrecorded and unrecognized – from being lost?
In the context of climate change, women’s biodiversity knowledge becomes even more vital as it may hold keys to adaptation and survival.
We need to raise awarenes about the potential wealth of women’s contributions in all forums and institutions dealing with biodiversity. Conservation efforts need to draw on the principles of social justice, equity and equality.