Why Gender Matters to Ecological Management and Poverty Reduction

  • Isabel Gutierrez-Montes
  • Mary Emery
  • Edith Fernandez-Baca


Gender issues in conservation and rural development have been a topic of ­discussion within research and development institutions since the 1980s. Women have been excluded from many programs and projects both because of the traditional values of some cultures and because of the prejudice inherent in many development efforts of the time. Lack of participation in development programs has had long-term implications not only for the women themselves, but also for their children. Furthermore, focusing exclusively on men meant many programs failed to attain their goals for several reasons. In some cases, the information given to men was not communicated to women who were responsible for applying the information. In other cases, the focus of the project pertained to women’s work and often the men who received the information or participated in the demonstration projects did not know what questions to ask. Some efforts targeted at men had adverse effects on women by changing agricultural processes in ways that negatively impacted women and their children. For example, the focus on cash crops often led to a decrease in subsistence farming and degradation of soils and, thus, increased food insecurity. Traditional views of development and of aid programs were based upon assumptions about who did what work and who made what decisions, which were not always reflective of reality. Thus, programs that intended to increase access to household resources were targeted at the male head of the household with the assumption that knowledge and information would trickle down to the rest of the household. These approaches also made unfounded assumptions about knowledge and knowledge transfer. A focus on gender has helped to broaden our understanding of how people learn and what skills and techniques are useful in effectively transferring information and expertise from one context to another. Women’s demands that their voices be heard led to an ­understanding of the importance of recognizing and valuing local knowledge as part of an information exchange. The focus on gender encouraged a deeper look at equity issues, not just those related to gender, but also in relation to the role of technology transfer and how technologies can impact groups of people differently. In some cases, new technologies introduced and adopted by one group can lead to increased burdens for others. Thus, the introduction of motor bikes increased men’s freedom and range of action, but increased the burden of work for those left behind. The critiques of development emerging from the analysis of gender have led to a deeper understanding of how societies function and how change occurs within particular societies. These analyses were important to formulating policies that support endogenous development.


Social Capital Natural Resource Management Cultural Capital Poverty Reduction Natural Capital 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabel Gutierrez-Montes
    • 1
  • Mary Emery
    • 2
  • Edith Fernandez-Baca
    • 3
  1. 1.Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE)Cartago, TurrialbaCosta Rica
  2. 2.Bioeconomy InstituteIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN)LimaPeru

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