Data increasingly shows that supporting and protecting women’s rights has positive benefits for the planet. Microcredit programs for sustainable agriculture, improved reproductive health and education play a major role in determining whether a woman will become self-sufficient enough to start her own business, or decide whether or not to have children. This, in turn, has strong ripple effects on natural resources.
In poorer nations, this growing trend is especially relevant as those populations are disproportionately impacted by climate change. According to a United Nations report, “The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall, and deforestation, make it harder to secure [natural] resources.” The report goes on to say that “…women are less likely to be in positions of power to protect natural resources.” Giving women the power to choose how they want to live their lives, both economically and personally, can therefore dramatically impact the local economy.
Some of the social benefits of giving women increased authority include improved health, self-esteem and community ties in addition to a newfound top-down business approach that focuses on employing women in regions where their predominant role has historically been childrearing and food preparation.
Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement, which started in Kenya in the 1970s, has been pivotal at connecting African women to their environment in an effort to both protect natural resources and encourage women to stand up for themselves. Maathai’s revolutionizing concept centers on connecting the economic dots in an effort to demonstrate how a healthy environment gives back to the local community via a healthy water and food supply. Paying women a stipend for planting trees, for example, demonstrates how new forest growth provides food and shade, prevents erosion and eventually lures back wildlife.
While there have been challenges to this model, including corruption, fostering this important link between a healthy, stable environment and a healthy lifestyle is vital for protecting the planet and maintaining a balanced approach to conservation. And, as women are typically the ones to work directly in the environment, getting women involved in local governance issues, in addition to farming, could lead to increased environmental awareness and protection on a political level as women are most knowledgeable about the plants they collect and the resources available to their families.
Photo Credit: Masai29