Gender Remains Neglected At The Nairobi Session Of New Biodiversity Framework

Representatives of 196 countries and 165 civil society groups are currently gathered here, discussing the new framework for biodiversity conservation in the world.

But even as there is growing evidence of the contributions of women in managing resources sustainably and in biodiversity conservation, this latest meeting to finalise the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Conservation Framework paid little attention to gender equality in biodiversity conservation.

Target 22, a standalone target for gender equality, was first proposed at a session in Geneva in March 2022, and agreed to by 13 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), including Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala and Tanzania, along with several non-governmental organisations. At the Nairobi session, that number increased to 22 parties.

Yet, there was only one contact group session in Nairobi where all countries met to discuss this target, and the text of what the target will look like has not been finalised, observers told us.

The convention has yet to centre gender issues, noted the women's caucus, a group of civil society organisations supporting the inclusion of a target on gender, in a press briefing.

"A gender-specific target would serve to guide all biodiversity-related planning, policies and implementation with a gender lens that would ensure the full realisation of the global biodiversity framework," said the caucus, in their opening statement at the Nairobi negotiating session. "It would drive action towards gender equality priorities and would ensure that countries consider this target in their planning, monitoring and reporting processes" for biodiversity conservation.

Importance of gender in biodiversity conservation

While there is growing evidence about the roles and contributions of women in sustainable resource governance and conservation, there are limited mechanisms in place to systematically map, collect and analyse their roles and activities regarding biodiversity conservation, use and access of resources, and benefit-sharing.

For instance, in India, women make up over 65% of the agricultural workforce. Yet, women from small and marginal land-holding families, where male migration is high, often do not have clear legal title over land, either in their name or jointly with their husbands, which makes it difficult for women to access various resources such as water for irrigation, or credit and extension services that are often tied to land ownership. This means, women, who by an overwhelming majority engage with land and water, are not empowered to fully participate in conservation efforts.

Earlier, in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that had set goals for 2020 to address and act on biodiversity loss, Target 14 was the only one to address gender issues overtly, calling for the needs of women, indigenous peoples, local communities, and the poor and vulnerable to be taken into account in the restoration and safeguarding of ecosystems. No other provisions were contained within the strategic plan on how gender can be included in policies, in the design of programmes and in implementing these.

The Convention on Biological Diversity's 2015-2020 Gender Plan of Action also included incorporating gender equality into national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) as one of the possible actions for integrating a gender perspective in biodiversity conservation.

"In Aichi, Target 14 recognised women's role, but no one really took care of it," said Mrinalini Rai, a women's rights and environmental rights advocate, and Director of Women4Biodiversity, and co-convenor of the CBD's Women and Gender Caucus that is pushing for Target 22 in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. "The problem is that we never look beyond targets. So in Aichi, though there was Target 14 and Target 18 on indigenous people which also linked women's roles, there were no indicators to assess how countries will engage women, for instance land rights, including in the reporting of the targets."

This is why at Geneva, a new gender target was proposed by countries and advocacy groups to be included in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, that would aim to ensure women's and girls' equitable access and benefits from the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as their informed and effective participation at all levels of biodiversity policy and decision-making.

"Our headline demand is for land rights for women," said Rai. In India, women hold only 12.8% of operational holdings — lower than the 17% in China — over just a tenth (10.3%) of the total area of India's operational holdings, IndiaSpend reported in 2018.

Some parties have stated that since the Gender Plan of Action (GPA) will complement the Framework, there is no need for a standalone target on gender. Feminists and gender equality advocates, however, believe it critical to have strong integration of gender within the Framework itself to anchor and give life to the GPA.

"Issue of gender in the GBF [Global Biodiversity Framework] is an important one. And arguably, you can put them in every target--and you should put them in. The important question is where is the best way to put them in the framework," said Basile Van Havre, co-chair of the Nairobi working group at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), while addressing the press during the negotiations.

Little progress on including gender at the Nairobi negotiation

At the Nairobi negotiating session, the contact group IV that is responsible for discussing the new target had only one reading of Target 22.

In a press conference, Benjamin Schachter, Human Rights Officer on Climate Change and Environment at the United Nations Human Rights office, said that the text at present is full of brackets. In the UN language, a square bracket means that the text is not yet agreed and to get rid of brackets would mean agreeing on the disputed words or passages.

Earlier, the draft text proposed for Target 22 read, "Ensuring women and girls equitable access and benefits from conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as their informed and effective participation at all levels of policy and decision-making related to biodiversity."

However, in the session, Norway proposed a new text that stated, "Ensure gender equality in the implementation of the global biodiversity framework and the achievement of the three objectives of the convention including by recognizing equal rights and access to land and natural resources of women and girls and their meaningful and informed participation in policy and decision-making".

The Norway text was supported by Central and Latin American countries and appreciated by advocacy groups for strong and clean language.

However, because of the lack of support from the remaining 174 countries who are parties to the convention, the final decision on the text stayed in limbo. Some parties want to merge women's role and contribution in biodiversity conservation with the target that ensures that local communities and indigenous people are included in biodiversity conservation.

However, the framing of the target talks of women, and not of all genders. Other countries refused to accept the term "gender" in Norway's phrasing of the target because their national laws do not recognize LGBTQIA gender persons.

"While negotiations are still ongoing, we hope that parties are able to retain the three main priorities based on which we have the Target 22 which are, recognition and informed and equal participation of women in formal decision-making bodies; their rights to be equal landholders; and equitable access and benefit from conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity," said Shruti Ajit, a member of the women's caucus, who is also involved in research and advocacy at Kalpavriksh, a Pune-based environmental action group.

The road ahead

The final decision on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be deferred to COP15 at Montreal between 5-17 December, as many conflicts including finance for biodiversity conservation, and issues of equity and access and benefit-sharing among developed and developing countries, are yet to be resolved.

Unless several aspects, including the rights of different groups including women, are addressed in the new framework, it will be ill-equipped to address the biodiversity crisis, experts noted.

With more parties supporting and recognizing the need for a gender equality target, we are hopeful that target 22 gets adopted at the COP and paves way for a gender responsive Global Biodiversity Framework, said Ajit.


This story was produced as part of a Biodiversity Media Initiative travel grant to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. It was originally published in IndiaSpend on 27 June 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The Biodiversity Media Initiative is supported by Arcadia — a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing. 

Banner image: A woman harvesting rice / Credit: Talukdar David, Shutterstock.com.

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