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Life as Commerce: The impact of market-based conservation mechanisms on women

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A. Cardenas
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This paper highlights the need to support rural and indigenous women’s highly sustainable methods of using and protecting natural resources. It advocates that women’s knowledge should be developed and adapted to respond to the global problem of decreasing biodiversity, while protecting women’s rights within their families, communities and beyond. The paper notes that it is currently fashionable to approach biodiversity conservation from an economic perspective, where priority is given to ‘environmental services’ that create a profit. This has resulted in the promotion of market-based conservation mechanisms such as carbon trading, biodiversity offsets, certification, trade in genetic resources and related knowledge, and ‘ecotourism’. However, as there is not equal access to market economies, this approach frequently has negative effects on indigenous people and local communities, who lack the resources to enter the marketand are then denied access to biodiverse land when it is privatised. The paper stresses that women are at a particular disadvantage in market economies. They have less time to engage in income-generating activities, they are discriminated against in terms of pay and conditions, they often own far less land, property and assets and are often excluded from inheritance. When rural women are denied access to biodiverse land, this disadvantage is compounded further, as they often depend on this to access resources such as fuel wood, medicinal plants, fodder and wild foods to sell or for family use. Despite these disadvantages for women, most international policies support market-based approaches.The paper cautions that such policy approaches mainly attract and benefit large-scale land owners, who can be seen to contribute towards market-based conservation such as carbon trading initiatives. There are some women-driven forest restoration initiatives such as The Green Belt Movement, but most are not recognised as commercially viable. In addition, many ecotourism projects do not promote positive environmental values but adopt the term as a marketing tool. The paper recommends that new and additional financial resources be provided to support the sustainable, democratic and well-enforced public governance of biodiversity. This includes: challenging ‘pay the polluter’ policies and redirecting incentives towards local and indigenous communities; banning deforestation; safeguarding indigenous rights; and promoting and supporting women’s rights and their initiatives to conserve and nurture biodiversity.

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