Gender and the Environment

In Africa, the central and crucial role that women play is often unappreciated. Women are rendered invisible and their contribution, as both producers and active agents in sustainable development, is overlooked.

Although women make tremendous contributions to the economy, their contribution is not valued in the same way as men’s. Much of a woman’s work is not simply underpaid, it is entirely unpaid. Among the majority of African rural and low-income urban dwellers, women perform all domestic tasks, while many also farm and trade. They are responsible for the care of children, the sick and elderly, producing food, in addition to performing essential social functions within their communities. The negative outcomes of the loss and/or degradation of natural resources often affect women most heavily, adding to their responsibilities and multiple roles in families and communities.

Women usually have no rights and/or access to land for varying legal and cultural reasons yet they are the majority of the agricultural producers, playing important roles in farming, fisheries, and forestry. They hold the least amount of titles among property holders. African women, particularly those in rural areas, are the main custodians of indigenous knowledge in natural resource conservation, management and food preparation. African women are the worst hit by shortages of water and poor sanitation because they have to travel longer distances to search for water under very insecure conditions.

African women are also increasingly becoming heads of households partly due to conflicts, HIV/AIDS and other cultural barriers. This means that they are solely responsible for providing for their families and take part in farming activities yet they do not have the legal rights to access water and land (which are their main source of livelihood). Since many women do not own land, women and girls constantly face the threat of becoming economically unstable and dependent on their male relatives or husbands.


In spite of efforts to link women to activities that promote sustainable development, African women have continued to face barriers in accessing their rights in almost all sectoral sustainable development activities dealing with natural resources management.

Priority action:

  • Recognize and support the critical role played by African women in the conservation and management of natural resources as well as initiating and strengthening policies and interventions that minimize gender inequalities;
  • Promote strategies for integration of gender equality in decision-making and implementation in relation to sustainable development in order to ensure that linkages between women and natural resources issues are taken into consideration;
  • Strengthen the role of women in natural resource management and support women to gain access to ecosystems services and livelihoods.