Biodiversity and Gender in the
Hindu Kush-Himalayas

3 – 21 May 2010


2010 is being celebrated around the world as the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’ – IYB 2010. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has been promoting the conservation and management of biodiversity across the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region for more than two decades and is organising several regional events to commemorate the Year, among them is this e-discussion on ‘Biodiversity and Gender in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas', being organised together with the Asia Pacific Mountain Network (APMN).

Biodiversity, or the variability of all life forms, is the basis of life on Earth and is needed to maintain the Earth and all of its living systems. It influences all key ecosystem processes, including productivity, nutrient cycling, resilience, and evolution; these processes, in turn, provide multiple benefits to mankind through a variety of ecosystem goods and services. For people, biodiversity increases food security and adaptability during environmental stress, while its loss increases vulnerability to natural disasters. The continued loss of biodiversity affects the availability of water for household use and the productivity of the landscape, upon which human livelihoods and the economy depend.

Biodiversity is facing threats from several drivers of change including climate change, changes in land use, and socioeconomic and development changes. The threats are aggravated by human activity such as deforestation, overexploitation of resources, illegal harvesting, and land conversion. In the changing context of climate, biodiversity is facing additional threats. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2007 report projects that about 20 to 30 per cent of plant and animal species will be in danger of extinction if the rise in global average temperature exceeds 2.5°C. The interconnectedness between biodiversity and climate change is evident, not only through the effects of climate change on biodiversity, but also through how changes in biodiversity affect climate change. Furthermore, threats to biodiversity are threats to the livelihoods of people, especially in the Himalayan region where biodiversity plays a critical role in sustaining the life of billions of people and where biodiversity forms the basis of people’s culture and traditions.

The gender perspective

Men and women play different roles in dealing with biodiversity resources. They perceive, use, and manage these resources differently, and have different knowledge and skills in relation to resource management. Across the globe, women’s role as wild plant gatherers, home gardeners, plant domesticators, herbalists, and seed custodians is well recognised. For example, the women farmers of the Garo Hills in India manage, on average, 35 species of seeds and have a thorough knowledge of their preservation and diversification. However, the enormous contribution made by women in conserving and managing biodiversity, and their capacity to do so, is rarely recognised. The lack of gender-differentiated perspectives on biodiversity research and documentation is a hindrance to this recognition.

Considering both women and men’s perspectives in biodiversity research gives a complete account of biodiversity characteristics, people-plant relationships, and the causes of biodiversity loss. This, in turn, may help formulate gender sensitive biodiversity policies, strategies, and guidelines for the effective conservation and management of biodiversity.

Climate change brings another dimension to biodiversity management. The consequences of the impact of climate change on biodiversity could be different for men and women. Particularly in developing countries, women may face greater challenges in adapting to environmental change, because they do the majority of agricultural work and have limited access to other income generating opportunities. In addition, they are usually responsible for providing daily household commodities such as food, fodder, fuelwood, medicine, clothing, shelter, and much more. With men engaging more and more in non-farm economic opportunities, women are often left with an increased workload. Therefore, paying serious attention to both women’s and men’s knowledge, use, rights, and needs with respect to biodiversity is important and can help meet the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity with regard to resource conservation, sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the management of biodiversity resources.


This e-discussion invites participants to share their knowledge in relation to the following questions:

  1. How do women and men use biodiversity resources? What are the differences in how they know and understand the biodiversity around them?
  2. What role do women and men play in conserving and managing biodiversity resources?
  3. How differently has the impact of climate change on biodiversity affected the lives of men and women in rural communities, particularly the poor and marginalised? How differently are they adapting or coping to these changes?
  4. What are the enabling and constraining factors in adapting to the changing biodiversity situation?

The e-discussion encourages partners and participants to share actual case studies and research where the documentation of gender-disaggregated data and information has helped in the effective management of biodiversity or has helped the community to better cope with, or adapt to, the impact of climate change. It is hoped that regional stories and lesson learnt will be shared from ICIMOD’s eight member countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. It would be interesting to understand how such gender-based studies have helped the promotion of policies for effective biodiversity conservation and management. Gender-based case studies that have added value to the knowledge of biodiversity and climate change in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas could also be separately highlighted as ‘partners' stories’ on ICIMOD’s IYB web page (www.icimod.org/iyb2010).

Weekly discussion plan

Week one (3–9 May 2010)

The discussion will focus on the knowledge of biodiversity from a gender perspective. ‘Biodiversity’ here means both wild and farmed biodiversity. We will specifically discuss:

  • What differences are there in the way men and women know the biodiversity around them?
  • What resources do men and women identify with and make most use of?
  • What resources are managed by women and what resources by men?
  • How do men and women perceive the status of, and trends in, biodiversity around them?
  • What threats to biodiversity are perceived as critical by women and men?
  • Is this knowledge documented or shared as useful and important?

Week two (10–16 May 2010)

The discussion will focus on climate change, its impact on biodiversity, people’s perceptions of the impact of climate change on biodiversity, and adaptation to the changed biodiversity situation. Specifically, we will discuss:

  • How do women and men perceive the change in the climate?
  • What changes in biodiversity have women and men observed due to climate change?
  • Are men and women affected differently by the loss of, or changes in, biodiversity, and how?
  • What are the reasons for women’s vulnerability to the impact of climate change?
  • What are the factors that constrain the capacity of women and men in adapting to the future impact of climate change and in managing biodiversity for the livelihoods of mountain communities?

Week three (17–21 May 2010)

The discussion will focus on the conservation and management aspects of biodiversity? Specifically, we will discuss:

  • How have women and men contributed to minimising the negative impact of drivers of climate change and the direct causes of biodiversity loss in their communities?
  • How is knowledge of medicinal plants and cultivated plants transferred from one generation to another?
  • What different capacities, knowledge, skills, and assets do women and men have in biodiversity conservation and management?
  • What technological innovations have been adapted by communities and to what extent are women part of such innovations?
  • To what extent are biodiversity conservation policies gender sensitive, i.e., contribute to addressing the different needs of women and men, build on their different knowledge and capacities in the development of conservation initiatives, and involve women in policy and strategy development?
  • What recommendations can be made to help integrate the gender perspective while developing national climate change adaptation strategies and action plans?

The moderators

Content moderators:

Ms Basundhara Bhattarai
Gender Specialist, Gender and Governance Division

Ms Bandana Shakya
Research Associate, Biodiversity Conservation and Management

Technical moderator:

Mr Tek Jung Mahat
Node Manager, APMN