March 8, 2016

On Gender, with Kame Westerman of Conservation International

Mara NovakEcoAgriculture Partners Louis WertzEcoAgriculture Partners

Gender equality is critical to the success of conservation and development projects. But how do we create it where it’s missing?

A conservation research project was assessing bush meat use in a forest. They talked to the men, who were the hunters, about what species of animals, and how many, they were catching, killing and bringing out of the forest. The number seemed suspiciously high, so the researchers thought it best to check with the women in the village, who were processing and cooking the bush meat. The numbers they got from the women were much lower.

This story, from Conservation International gender expert Kame Westerman, humorously illustrates why it is so critical to include women in conservation and development decision-making processes. Without equal participation, projects like the one in the story have a much greater chance of failure.

“Every project, program or policy that affects people has a gender component…” – Kame Westerman, Conservation International

In anticipation of 2016’s International Women’s Day (March 8th), Westerman spoke with EcoAgriculture Partners’ Mara Novak to discuss the benefits of and barriers to gender equality in conservation projects, how conservation programs can overcome these barriers, and how we measure gender equality at the community, national and international level.

Common barriers

The barriers to gender equality are common around the world, says Westerman. “What we’ve found is that across the board, from our work in Timor-Leste, to Liberia, to Colombia, all around the world, the barriers that keep women from participating are pretty standard.” There are just a handful of them: low education and illiteracy, low self-confidence or cultural expectations of women’s quietude, and time constraints as a result of non-stop household and childcare responsibilities.

As Westerman says, “[Women] usually have primary responsibility for children and for household activities, often for feeding the family as well. Then to prioritize going to a community meeting can be quite difficult.”

“You don’t need to be a gender expert to ask the right questions. You need to understand a community.”

Asking the right questions

“Way too often we count number of farmers we talked with, or number of community members, but not number of women and number of men.” A baseline helps project managers determine what questions to ask to discover the specific barriers to equal participation. Westerman works specifically to help project managers at CI identify these barriers and make culturally appropriate plans to overcome them.

“What we try to do is think about creative ways to overcome that barrier, says Westerman. “So for example if illiteracy is a problem […] let’s think about how we are communicating about this work. Do we need to use more pictures, do we need to use more radio, or more talking at community meetings, or going door to door? Really try to understand how how people get their information.”

Gender expertise not required

Every project manager can start to integrate gender into their work. “You don’t need to be a gender expert to ask the right questions,” says Westerman. “You need to understand a community.”

The right questions, according to Westerman, are simply about understanding how natural resource decisions are made in the community, and how do people participate in those decisions. Once you understand the issues, you can work with the community to develop the right ways to overcome the barriers.

“At the end of the day, asking questions about gender and doing a gender analysis, quote unquote, is really just about doing good stakeholder analysis,” says Westerman.

Gender issues go well beyond individual projects

Gender inequality is everywhere, from the community level to the boardroom to the halls of government. To achieve the fifth sustainable development goal, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” all our policies need to be gender responsive. As Westerman says, “every project, program or policy that affects people has a gender component… So that’s pretty much everything.”

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