This week I will be involved in a panel discussion entitled ‘Gender – a missing link in efforts to eradicate the illegal wildlife trade’ during the event ‘Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade’, which is being held ahead of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference: London 2018, hosted by the UK government. The seed for this panel was planted last year as a result of my casually googling ‘gender and IWT’ after it had occurred to me that in all the discussions I had been involved in and in the relatively little I had read about IWT, gender had never been mentioned. My googling at that time threw up precisely one article.
The importance of integrating gender into conservation is increasingly acknowledged, although there are still significant gaps in knowledge, policy and practice. This seems to be particularly true in the context of illegal wildlife trade where, despite anecdotal evidence that the roles of actors in the trade are highly gender differentiated, there appears to be very little attention paid to gender in research, policy and programming. Since my first google search I have found more information and have spoken to people who are thinking about this issue, but the consensus is that most approaches to addressing IWT appear to be ‘gender blind’ – in other words, no distinction is made between the sexes, or differences are acknowledged but not adequately analysed and acted upon.
Women and men interact with biodiversity and natural resources in different ways according to their socially assigned gender roles, and thus have different knowledge, needs and perspectives. Although women may use certain natural resources more than men, their roles are often less visible and they are less involved in decision making, both generally and in relation to natural resources. Men thus tend to both participate in and benefit more from conservation interventions than do women.
Gender-blind IWT interventions can result in a bias in favour of existing gender relations and may even reinforce rigid gender roles and stereotypes and marginalise women further, for example where associated with increasingly militarised responses. They are also likely to be based on unfounded assumptions, and potentially overlook or downplay the roles that women do have in illegal wildlife trade. Research has shown that women’s active participation in natural resource management leads to better conservation outcomes as a result of stricter rule making and compliance, greater transparency and accountability, better conflict resolution and increased patrolling and enforcement, as well as greater participation and representation and more equitable benefit sharing. These are all factors that could lead to more effective IWT responses.
It is not only women who are affected by gender roles and expectations. In northern Kenya, for example, social constructions of male gender identity mean that young men often spend several years as moran (warriors). Living on the fringes of society, moran are expected to hunt and be ready to fight. In recent years, as they are increasingly armed with automatic weaponry, their activities have become more threatening for conservation as well as peace in the region. During discussions with conservancy staff as part of a project that aimed to increase women’s participation in decision making in community conservancies, moran as well as women were regarded as being ‘excluded’ from conservation. It was stated that since moran are ‘free’ with their mothers, discussing sensitive matters such as security, encroachment and poaching in their presence, women could potentially be the missing link in the prevention aspect of conservation.
Given that gender analysis and integration has been shown to improve outcomes in other spheres of conservation, it could be surmised that this is likely also to be true for IWT. However, the gender-blind nature of practice to date means that the evidence base for this hypothesis is currently lacking. This week we are initiating a discussion between a diverse group of people involved in tackling IWT to explore what is already known about the roles of both men and women in aiding or preventing IWT, how gender is being integrated (or not) into interventions designed to reduce IWT, and the implications and risks of gender-blind approaches, as well as identifying key knowledge gaps and priority issues for future research and collaboration.
I’m looking forward to hearing other perspectives on how we can integrate gender into work to address IWT and recognise both the actual and potential roles of women in this space to ensure that we’re not missing a trick when it comes to tackling wildlife crime.