Gender and Environmental Management
Maina, L. W.
Owino, George Evans
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The terms gender and development converge in various ways among them the consideration of varied roles that both sexes can play in development, the gendered distribution of benefits accruing from development together with how these benefits (and costs) affect men and women. Environmental sustainability is equally a gender issue because both men and women are beneficiaries and conservers of the environment. Though programmes targeting the proper use of the environment have in many cases ignored the value of integrating genders identities, the rationale 'for the inclusion of both men and women is not an issue in contention. The essence of being male or female within society has several dictates. On one level, it represents different social and cultural experience and secondly, it indicates particular access and control over both natural and social resources. The gender approach to development has emerged within the last four decades. Before that, past approaches to development gave no attention to gender as a factor. Consequently, the roles of men and women in development were not carefully assessed while development was perceived as something that happened to a nation rather than a process requiring conscious integration of various actors and mobilization of social inputs. More importantly is the fact that women's role in development was practically ignored. Brett April, in Wallace, (1991)documents that in the 1950s and 60s, women's interests in development were subsumed under the concerns of human rights and women were viewed as objects to protect rather than consult. Through the 1970s,women's key positions in the development process became more apparent especially in the realm of population and food. In this paradigm, women emerged as useful resources to integrate into the development process. Since the 1980s, women have been progressively viewed not just as relevant players, but also as key agents and beneficiaries in all sectors and at all levels of the development process. These changes have occurred with the growth of a better understanding of gender roles. Similarly, the perception of the relationship between gender and the environment has also evolved. Traditionally, women have been portrayed paradoxically as one with nature, close to nature and at conflict with nature. These views have had both negative and positive implications. In many cases, women's socially constructed roles have brought them in direct conflict with the environment and earned them blame for improper use of the same. According to Sontheinier (1991), persistent images of women carrying heavy loads on their heads, cultivating on sloppy terrain, harvesting various products and trading on forest products have served to reinforce already existing gender inequalities and stereotypes that do not favour women and their inclusion in environmental management programmes. Thus, the relationship between gender, environment and sustainable development can be said to be one ridden with dichotomous dimensions and complexities. These dimensions centre on among others the fact that men and women have divergent roles in society, which dictate their patterns of the use of the environment; women and men's control over resources especially in Africa varies with women being constrained in different ways so as to emerge as an ecologically marginalized group; women and men's participation in development and environmental management is not equally acknowledged; women as opposed to men are disadvantaged in the provision of ecological management training; and lastly, environmental policies often tend to subsume women and men under one group and assume similar effects on them, which is not really the case. As such, opportunities for the formulation of sound environmental and development policies are often lost, which translates into continued women marginalisation and feminisation of poverty.