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[Blog series] Addressing issues of gender and social inclusion in sustainable ecosystem management in Guyana (Part 4.1)

16 juni 2020

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are matters of fundamental human rights and prerequisites to meeting sustainable development goals around the world. This four-part blog series outlines some of the benefits of (part 1), barriers to (part 2), and best practices and strategies to promote (part 3) gender equality in sustainable ecosystem management. This final part highlights some of the efforts taken by WWF-Guianas that have helped local and national level stakeholders address issues of gender and social inclusion in sustainable ecosystem management.

WWF-Guianas is one of the many local partner organisations in the programme Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS), a strategic partnership between IUCN NL, WWF NL and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 2016, WWF-Guianas, with support from IUCN, has been steadfast in efforts to promote gender equality and social inclusion in sustainable ecosystem management. In this blog, Ms. Preeya Rampersaud, who coordinates the programme in the Guianas eco-region at WWF-Guianas, explains how the long-term efforts by WWF-Guianas have empowered civil society organisations, the University of Guyana and government agencies to help ensure gender is thoroughly integrated in initiatives.

Shift in focus: equitable representation

‘Since we have been having discussions with government entities and civil society organisations, we have seen a shift in the understanding on gender and social inclusion,’ says Rampersaud. ‘Historically, we have always had a challenge in the environment sector that gender only means women. Now the focus is on ensuring there is more equitable representation of men and women at the table.’

Since we have been having discussions with government entities and civil society organisations, we have seen a shift in the understanding on gender and social inclusion

The trajectory started off with a gender capacity building workshop coordinated by WWF-Guianas and IUCN to develop a collective understanding and action plan on gender and social inclusion in environmental action amongst the participating stakeholders from government agencies, academia, NGOs and community-based organizations from all over Guyana. The workshop was key in inspiring continued action in Guyana throughout the programme, which is now in its fourth year of implementation, with Ms. Ashanta Osborne, the lead facilitator in the workshop, emphasising to participants, ‘We run the risk of talking about gender mainstreaming but not doing anything to change the status quo. It is up to us to make that change happen.’

Contribution to national gender policy

One action was the influence on national decision makers to integrate cross-cutting principles of gender and environment into national policies. ‘WWF-Guianas and civil society organisations in the environment sector were invited to participate in a stakeholder engagement process for development of the national gender policy in Guyana,’ Rampersaud says. ‘As a result, the national gender policy includes gender considerations related to the environment for the first time, including references to inclusion of gender issues in the agricultural sector and climate change adaptation.’  

Empirical evidence linking gender and natural resource sector

The workshop also triggered interest of the University of Guyana. Dr. Gyanpriya Maharaj, the Director of the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity at the University of Guyana, attended the gender capacity building workshop, where she says the links between gender and natural resources became clear to her. ‘Based on my participation at that workshop, I had the belief that to start looking at gender in Guyana, the University of Guyana had to be involved in research as it relates to gender.’

Dr. Maharaj shared the lessons she learned with colleagues, coordinating actors across the university and securing resources from WWF-Guianas to undertake a study on gender balance and disparities in student enrolment, graduation and careers in natural resource and environmental management sectors.

The intent is that all univerisity graduates have awareness of the issues that can emerge when working with the diversity of human beings that exist within the environment

The study generated some of the first documented, empirical evidence linking gender and natural resource sector. Furthermore, Dr. Maharaj’s advocacy on these issues and the results of the study contributed to building the knowledge and awareness of these issues at the University, sparking additional initiatives led by the Dean for the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Mr. Calvin Bernard.

University integrates gender, social justice and environmental justice

Mr. Bernard saw an opportunity to increase efforts on gender equality and social inclusion within the studies at the University of Guyana, and through continued collaboration with WWF-Guianas, he is helping efforts to integrate gender, social justice and environmental justice issues into the curriculum of natural resource and environmental courses. ‘The intent is that all graduates have awareness of the issues that can emerge when working with the diversity of human beings that exist within the environment, and they are prepared to take and influence action and decisions that at the end of the day are just to everyone that is involved, including the non-human element: the environment.’

Government request: gender-environment training

The initial workshop also inspired representatives of the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request a two-day gender capacity building training by WWF-Guianas and IUCN. ‘It was the first gender-environment focused training for any government agency in Guyana,’ Rampersaud states. One of the participants, Ms. Christine Samwaroo, a Senior Environment Officer at the EPA, stated the training gave her the tools to view her work through a gender lens: ‘I think gender considerations are important, because in whatever you are doing, gender makes it better. You’re creating a space where people are freely able to give inputs.’

Addressing fundamental human rights should be at the core of what we do to ensure there is social change.

Fundamental human rights at the core

From a broader perspective, the efforts by WWF-Guianas have influenced the way partners in Guyana view gender and social issues, by bringing the conversation to a fundamental human rights-based perspective that is rooted in the understanding that all people have rights to a healthy environment. ‘Addressing fundamental human rights should be at the core of what we do to ensure there is social change. An important aspect of this is not just seeing gender as a donor requirement, or an add on to a project,’ says Rampersaud, ‘This allows for continuity beyond the scope of the engagement of the project. Once there is that kind of integration of recognizing these fundamental human rights, we reduce power imbalances that exist within a society.’

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