Gender issues have been reflected consistently in international decisions under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since its adoption at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In 2008, a Gender Plan of Action was prepared under the convention, which has since been updated to align with the Strategic Plan for biodiversity 2011–2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets. One of the strongest calls in the Plan is to mainstream gender into developing and implementing national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) and monitoring mechanisms. The call reflects the acknowledgement of different gender roles and labour responsibilities, as well as different priorities, knowledge and decision-making power which affect how women and men access, use and manage biodiversity resources.
With this understanding, the Bangkok workshop was organized to assess training needs and develop materials to be used by gender experts during training sessions with government officers and biodiversity specialists responsible for policy planning. Involving regional gender and environment experts and national government representatives working in the areas of natural resources and environment, the event also provided a space for discussion around opportunities for sustainable development and women’s empowerment in contexts of enhanced biodiversity and ecosystems.
To surface the linkages between gender and biodiversity, working group discussions focussed on distinct daily activities and responsibilities of women and men in countries of the Asia Pacific region. With a focus on the Pacific, participants provided examples of the multiple roles of women from Palau in agriculture and forestry. Differently, in the marine areas of Fiji or Vanuatu, women are responsible for fishing for home consumption through reef crop fishing or gathering shellfish. Yet their skills, work and knowledge are often underestimated to privilege men’s deep-water fishing for commercial purposes.
“Women must be included when decisions are taken. In Palau, because of their daily work they have the traditional and practical knowledge of different crops or forest resources for instance, and of the changing needs of their local communities and ways in which those needs can be addressed.”
As women use and hold significant knowledge of many environmental resources and spaces, the discussions revealed how their empowerment, and therefore active participation in the decision-making spaces, is central for addressing also a wider range of issues. Those issues include endangered ecosystems, challenges to livelihoods posed by climate change impacts (particularly in low-lying atoll States in the Pacific), socio-cultural norms informing gendered relationships, and access to shifting biological resources and ecosystem services.
Yet as participants at the Bangkok workshop emphasized, most national action plans still do not fully recognize women and their potential. This position is in line with a recent analysis of the NBSAPs submitted to the CBD’s Secretariat between 1993 to 2016. The study shows that although 56% of the NBSAPs reference “women” and/or “gender” at least once, when women are mentioned they tend to be characterized mainly as vulnerable, marginalized and/or passive beneficiaries of policy and interventions. “While our rights must be protected, we shouldn’t forget that women are active agents of social and economic change. We must get this message heard within our own organizations and among those we work with,” says one of the participants.
The workshop was therefore an effort to improve the existing understanding and to work towards overcoming institutional cultures that may present barriers to gender-responsive biodiversity policy. In focusing training materials on a specific region, the tool-kit will provide its users with both general understanding of the benefits to biodiversity of integrating gender and to gender equality from biodiversity policy and planning – an interactive quiz session has been designed for this purpose – and contextualised information relevant to the audiences and applicable across the region. To this end, participants were asked to submit examples of country specific case studies, good practice and/or research findings for development into training materials – case-studies and scenarios will be included in the tool-kit.
Differences between countries in such a vast and diverse region as Asia-Pacific, and therefore difficulties in designing appropriate training materials that speak to each specific context were also considered. As one contributor noted:
“While a regional framework is needed, we need to consider national and local differences and work on those to better address gender inequalities in these sectors. We should work on improving how we communicate for more effective policy in our communities.”
In this regard, greater collaboration between government officials in charge of policy, civil society and women NGO representatives was identified as essential practice. Both organizers and participants were therefore eager to ensure that the network that the event helped to forge will provide opportunities for further cooperation to support countries’ capacity to effectively address gender issues in an effective manner, especially in the upcoming implementation stage of the NBSAPs. Strong calls for more participatory events where gender, environment and biodiversity specialists can meet and unpack issues, needs and synergies related to these issues were also voiced during the three-day event.
At this point it would be fair to say that outcomes of the initiative went beyond the specific objectives of assessing regional training needs and reviewing CBDs training materials on gender and biodiversity, to reflect on potential collective actions towards boosting capacity for gender-responsive biodiversity planning and implementation processes in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Training materials will be available in early 2018. Further information on the CBD and linkages between gender and biodiversity can be accessed here and by contacting Tanya McGregor, Gender Programme Officer, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity Tanya.McGregor@cbd.int.