, Volume 8, Issue 1-2, pp 156-165

Gender, ecology, and the science of survival: Stories and lessons from Kenya

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Sustainable development and biodiversity initiatives increasingly include ethnoscience, yet the gendered nature of rural people's knowledge goes largely unrecognized. The paper notes the current resurgence of ethnoscience research and states the case for including gendered knowledge and skills, supported by a brief review of relevant cultural ecology and ecofeminist field studies. The author argues the case from the point of view of better, more complete science as well as from the ethical imperative to serve women's interests as the “daily managers of the living environment”. In the interests of both objectives the paper advocates an ethnoscience research approach based on empowerment of rural people, rather than simple extraction of their knowledge. The Kenyan case study of women's agroforestry work follows their response to the drought and famine of 1985 and chronicles the unfolding discovery of women's ecological, political, and social science as gendered survival skills. The case is re-counted as a story, in keeping with an explicit choice to learn through participation and to report through storytelling. The experience of rural women and researchers during the drought provides several lessons for both groups about their respective knowledge systems, their agroforestry work, and the relationship of both to local and national political economy.

Dianne E. Rocheleau is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University in Worcester, MA. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography with a minor in Systems Ecology from the University of Florida. She teaches courses on social forestry, tropical ecology, political ecology, gender and development. Her research focuses on social and ecological dimensions of forestry and rural landscape change in East Africa and Central America. She conducted research on land use and watershed management in the Dominican Republic from 1979 to 1981, worked as a senior scientist at the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) in Nairobi from 1983 to 1986, and was a Forestry and Agricultural Program Officer for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa from 1986 to 1989.
Dr. Rocheleau is senior author ofAgroforestry in Dryland Africa and has authored several articles and book chapters on women, trees, tenure and land use. She serves on the advisory boards of the Land Tenure Center, the Wildlife and Human Needs Program of the World Wildlife Fund, andSociety and Natural Resources Journal. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NRC/BOSTID) review panel on International Forestry Research.