Gender affects how we value and use natural resources.
Men Are From Mars, and Women are Undervalued in Ecosystem Services. Alas, that title is unlikely to be a best-seller like John Gray’s classic self-help tome. Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus sold 15 million copies and was translated into 50 languages. But just as men and women see intimacy in different ways, so, too, can gender affect how we experience natural resources.
A new study from the University of Exeter looked at how being male or female changes how a person has access to resources such as clean water or fertile soil. It used eight communities in coastal Kenya and Mozambique as its study areas, and found that resources such as coral reefs, fisheries and forests were used very differently by men and women. The study is important, because it suggests that attempts to manage natural resources aren’t often thought of in terms of male/female needs but should be.
The issue comes up across cultures and geography. Take, for example, fishing. In places like Vietnam and Peru, men’s work offshore has been seen as “fishing,” while women’s work, which is nearer to the shore—gathering smaller fish, hunting for clams—isn’t. Another example is water. The United Nations reports that women carry the majority of clean water in places where it needs to be brought in. In Asia and Africa, women walk an average of 3.7 miles a day carrying water, but are not usually part of the conversation when it comes to managing local water projects.
The Exeter study, writes Professor Katrina Brown, the lead on the research, suggests that in order for everyone to benefit from the mental and physical benefits of an ecosystem, gender trade-offs have to be put into place.