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Women’s Day 2021: Time to Recognize & Appreciate Women’s Role in Biodiversity Preservation

Shivam Dwivedi
Shivam Dwivedi
Womens day 2021
Village women

Every year we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March to recognize women’s success and her role in economic, social, political, and cultural development.  The day is also celebrated to make people aware of women’s rights and gender equality. There is one more area i.e. Biodiversity preservation where women’s contribution needs to be realized and appreciated at the global level.

Dated back to March 8, 1917 women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia. There after in 1977, United Nations recognized this day and started celebrating as International Women’s Day. This year the theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, highlighting the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future in all sphere of life.

As we know women and men generally have different roles in the management and use of natural resources as a result of gender discrimination prevalent in all societies. Gender differentiated responsibilities vary region to region, but in many communities around the world, women act as a primary caretakers and natural resource managers- procuring water and firewood, managing waste and providing healthcare, often through plant based medicines. Women are more likely to prioritize a varied diet for their children and treat family members with free and easily accessible herbal medicines when they fall sick, while men tend to be more focused on cash and non-food crops. 

We can also see women’s role as a custodian of natural resources and having vast knowledge on sources of water, storing and caring for seeds, and the different types of benefits of plants, including for food, medicines and aesthetic purposes and avoiding land degradation. The utilization of this vast knowledge of women is essential for the preservation of biodiversity i.e. total number of species and ecosystems in a region.

According to a UN Environment publication, “women provide almost 80 percent of the total wild vegetable food collected in 135 different subsistence- based societies. Up to 80 percent of the population in many developing countries relies on traditional medicines. Women often have a more specialized knowledge of various local and neglected species.

A country as diverse as India is a grand source of examples of traditional knowledge where women are involved closely in agricultural practices and this is reflected in gender-specific knowledge especially pertaining to seed selection, processing, storage, as also tasks that involve a deeper understanding of the system such as transplanting paddy. For example, we still appreciate the bravery shown by women in Chipko movement for protecting the trees and also women in the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh use the colour change in the plant Sesuvium portulacastrum as an indicator of water salinity. Another example is of Bishnoi community in Rajasthan highlighting the women’s efforts in conservation of wildlife of their region. These examples indicate the intricate link of women to their environment.

Despite international conventions emphasising the importance of gender in achieving objectives, research suggests that the recognition is superficial and particularly, in the case of the developing countries women’s knowledge regarding biodiversity conservation are dismissed as naive and often ignored. The main reason for this insufficient recognition can be attributed to the poor documentation and research related to indigenous and traditional knowledge that is communicated via oral traditions like folklore.

A key reason why this could be is because despite the legal backing given by the Biodiversity Rules and Act, the customary practices are still discriminatory and against allowing women complete access to grassroots decision making. It is therefore clear that while the recognition in itself is limited, both as a symbol and in terms of understanding, the progress in inclusion is further curtailed by the fact that there are no concrete steps being taken to overcome the barriers placed by customary law.

Therefore, it is very important to recognize the contribution of women in sustainable management of biodiversity at global level. More importantly, the efforts must not end with the recognition alone but must also provide concrete steps to integrate women into the planning and decision-making processes on various UN environmental platforms to achieve the dream of women leadership in biodiversity preservation and also its restoration.

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