From fish and medicinal herbs to potable water and firewood, the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor rely on their environments to provide food, energy and water—vital resources that are increasingly compromised and degraded by deforestation, climactic changes, overexploitation and population pressures. The instability and degradation of these crucial resources most greatly impacts rural women, who account for the majority of the rural poor, disproportionately rely on natural resources, and are living in ever more vulnerable ecosystems.
Where these resources are declining, women must devote more time to gathering water, food and energy; this means less time to educate their children, grow crops or start businesses. Further, resource degradation has deeply adverse affects on both human and environmental well being, forcing families to exploit less healthy and less sustainable practices to substitute those that had previously sustained their livelihoods and, in some cases, forcing families to sell a daughter into prostitution or slavery.
Despite women’s role as the primary users of natural resources, conservation practitioners often overlook their immense potential as stewards of environmental sustainability and development programs routinely neglect their voices and needs. At New Course we recognize the powerful role that women can play in renewing and stabilizing their environments and the resources their communities depend on. Where women are engaged, a full picture of a community’s resource needs can be seen, more effective solutions can be developed, and sustainable natural resource management that secures both local environments and communities’ livelihoods can be fostered. Further, once the resources that women depend on are stabilized, the benefits that women accrue pay out dividends to entire communities, allowing more children to receive education, greater agricultural yields, as well as increased economic growth.