So no one told you collaboration was gonna be this way

Lessons Learned about Gender Equality and Conservation

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Women around the globe are at the forefront of addressing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on people and planet; designing, implementing, and scaling up their own solutions. They are leaders in environmental protection and conservation not least because socially defined gender roles often position women and girls as stewards of the physical, economic, and cultural well-being of their communities. This dynamic places the responsibility for natural resource management and use squarely on women and girls. As a result, they are also disproportionately impacted by damage to water, land, and clean air.

Consequently, their leadership is key to protecting these resources, as evidenced by compelling research which showed that including women in forest and fishery management groups can result in better resource governance and conservation outcome. The Convention on Biological Diversity, in its preamble, recognises “the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and affirms the need for the full participation of women at all levels of policy-making and implementation for biological diversity conservation.” Most recently, the resolution on the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly reiterated the recognition of women’s contribution and stressed the need to ensure their effective participation in ecosystem conservation and restoration at all levels. Yet women are often excluded from participating in community decision and policy-making regarding natural resource use.

Realising this discrepancy and the consequently missed opportunities, the conservation movement over the last few years has become more interested in how to promote gender equality in their programming. One big hurdle to this has been the lack of funding for women-led conservation and environmental initiatives, in particular those at community-level. As a 2018 mapping report by Global Greengrants Fund and Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds reveals, only 0.2 percent of all foundation funding focuses explicitly on women and the environment, and within that, biodiversity conservation is almost entirely overlooked – only one percent of the overall funding supports women in their conservation efforts; with the majority of funds going to agricultural and food security initiatives.

It is therefore not hard to understand why my organisation, Global Greengrants Fund, has had a long-standing interest in becoming more gender-responsive in our grantmaking. As a funder committed to protecting our planet, we saw a huge opportunity in supporting compelling women-led solutions. At the end of a decade-long journey, over 70 percent of our grants now go to women-led or women-focused environmental initiatives around the world.

Collaboration is Key – But How?

GAGGA Infographic

A big reason why we managed to achieve this is collaboration. Convinced that our grantmaking will be more effective if we work across different thematic sectors to tackle complex, multi-faceted problems, we realised early on that we do not have the capacity to work on everything, all the time. Finding collaborators in the gender justice and women's rights sector seemed the obvious solution. Starting with a Summit on Women and Climate which we co-organised with allies in the women’s funds space in 2014, we have spent the last few years building our partnerships and learning from each other. The Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) was the single most important vehicle for us in that regard.

Since 2016, Global Greengrants Fund has been a strategic partner in GAGGA, a global effort to bring together the women’s rights and environmental movements to strengthen and unify the capabilities of grassroots groups and movements to lobby and advocate with and for women to claim their rights to water, to food and to a clean, healthy and safe environment. With generous support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GAGGA collaborates with and provides funding support to national, regional and global women´s rights and environmental justice funds and organisations in more than 30 countries across Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

Along the way, we have seen impressive impact as a result of this collaboration, ranging from increased confidence of women to voice their opinions, stand up for their rights, and participate in decision-making processes, to improved land use and natural resource management practices, and the emergence of women as new champions playing a leadership role in environmental conservation.

We have also learned many lessons, about ourselves, collaboration, and the realities of this work on the ground. Here are four reflections I would like to share, and I would love to hear yours if you are on a similar journey!

  • Peer-to-peer approaches work best. Addressing gender equality in environmental conservation challenges predominant societal structures (hello, patriarchy!). Concepts of gender and biodiversity are abstract, and need to be translated into people’s lives. If we are not mindful of local dynamics, and have context-relevant strategies, any approach, however well-meaning, will fail. Who better to develop these context-relevant strategies than those already living and working in this context? Trusting local expertise and supporting peer-to-peer capacity building and reflections will ensure ultimate success and sustainability of this work.
  • It takes time to build collaborations. Trust is the essence of any partnership, and there is no magic formula other than time spent to get to know each other to build trust. This means investments in convening, conversations, and exchange. GAGGA started two years before we began implementation – with meetings, research, planning. Misunderstandings had to be straightened out, trust built, food and drink shared, ideas formed and tossed out, feelings hurt, assumptions challenged, a common language established. This process still continues: every year, we take time to convene, discuss and learn about our priorities and approaches. Where do we align, where do we converge? Interestingly, we found that women at the grassroots have a much more holistic view on environmental protection. It is us funders who have siloed our approaches. Another reason to put local experience and knowledge front and centre!
  • Funders need to break down programmatic siloes. Even the most well-designed programmes will not be successful if there is no holistic funding support to implement them. Too often we have to artificially break up interconnected work to fundraise for it from either a women’s rights or environmental funder, with their own siloed strategies and understanding of what impact is. To collectively explore how we can overcome our siloes and holistically support this nexus, Global Greengrants Fund and Prospera since 2019 have been convening a funder learning community on women and environment. Stay tuned for learnings from that process soon.
  • How to measure environmental impact. The big underlying assumption of this work is that supporting women in their own environmental solutions will have greater conservation impact. There is some data available to support this assumption (as above), but for GAGGA we are still collectively developing how to evidence the long-term environmental impact of the capacity support we provide. While the impact on women and their wider communities is almost always immediately tangible, we are keen to hear more from the field how you are measuring impact of gender equality approaches in conservation and what you are learning.


Eva Rehse

Executive Director, Global Greengrants Fund UK

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
over 1 year ago

Hi Eva, the current reality of often siloed approaches and the need for context-relevant strategies really resonated with me. Thank you very much for sharing these reflections with us; it’s a perfect piece to open the dialogue between funders and practitioners within our WildHub community.

Go to the profile of Eva Rehse
over 1 year ago

Thank you for the opportunity to share, Thirza!

Go to the profile of Adam Barlow
over 1 year ago

Thanks very much for your insights - I had not really thought of differentiating impact/beneficiaries based on gender before. We do collect data on who we train - and looking at the numbers I notice that women conservationists make up 68% of the people we train. We don't have targets for this but perhaps we should? 

Go to the profile of Eva Rehse
over 1 year ago

Hi Adam, 

That's really interesting. I would encourage you to look at that more - what are these women conservationists working on, how do their approaches differ from their male counterparts, and consequently do they have different training needs? This could even be when are they available for training, does it differ from the men because of their other responsibilities? Once you start looking through the gender lens it's hard not to notice differences. Let us know how this develops for you! 

Go to the profile of Adam Barlow
over 1 year ago

Thanks Eva, will do.

Go to the profile of Adam Barlow
over 1 year ago

Hi Eva, have posted a diversity-related question in the collaboration part of the hub that I could do with your help on if you had time, but no worries if not. Cheers, Adam