Through years of field experience our leadership team has witnessed the enormous potential of women to become stewards of their environments and leaders of their communities’ development. However, we have also seen that organizations most often overlook this potential while failing to develop interventions that account for and are responsive to the roles and needs of women, overlooking half the stakeholders and voices of the communities they serve.
Women perform important roles in natural resource management, fisheries, agriculture and other economic activities, often in low-income, informal positions. They are also those whose livelihoods rely most on natural resources and who most directly engage with food, water and energy collection. Because of this, loss of access to healthy natural resources affects women’s well-being disproportionately to that of men. Yet despite their increased interaction with diverse resources and their greater vulnerability to degradation, women are regularly excluded from decision-making and are rarely targeted for capacity building, training or economic opportunities.
New Course’s philosophy is to ask women what they need and to provide tools, training and resources to enable women to accomplish their goals sustainably. Where women are engaged, conservation and development goals are more effectively achieved. Further, the benefits of engaging women not only improve the livelihoods of women themselves, but also offer greater impact for entire communities.
What about Men?
Engaging women in conservation and development doesn’t mean excluding men, it means not excluding anyone. At New Course we recognize that enabling women to manage their resources and secure their livelihoods provides the greatest return on investment for both conservation and development goals, but we also recognize that interventions must engage all stakeholders to effectively achieve their objectives.
Additionally, the benefits of engaging women in natural resource management and community development include greater increases in food, energy and water security, education levels, environmental quality, and economic growth that benefit entire communities, including women’s husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers as well as other male community members.
Simply put, optimizing the engagement of women in natural resource management and community development isn’t about excluding men’s needs or voices, it’s about adding women to the conversation, ensuring that programs meet the needs of all stakeholders, and providing maximum benefit for entire communities.
Won’t this Upset Cultural Norms?
Cultural norms are valuable across cultures, however, some norms serve to perpetuate gender-based violence while others inhibit effective development and conservation. At New Course we recognize that cultural norms are not immutable and are changing constantly around the world. As an organization that engages women, our work does often go against tradition, however, we always work within international standards to ethically, and effectively enable women to become stewards of their environments and their communities’ development.