Women and Girls


Chela Elena Umire works with her daughter in Colombian Amazon

In many parts of the developing world, women of all ages play a critical role in managing natural resources, which they rely on for food, water, medicine, and fuel wood for their families. Yet they often are excluded from participating in decisions about resource use.

WWF addresses this issue by helping women in developing countries gain better access to education, health care, and sustainable livelihoods, and build their self-confidence. Doing so helps ensure that the voices, skills, and knowledge of women play a significant role in discussions and decision-making related to conservation in their families and communities.

In southern Tanzania, conservation strengthens community resilience while uplifting women

The CARE-WWF Alliance Nachingwea project took a multi-pronged approach, aiming to expand climate-smart agricultural practices, support sustainable livelihood opportunities for women, invest in community-based conservation, and bolster participatory governance.

Two women smile as they tie up newly harvested plants

What WWF Is Doing

Empowering women through community-led conservation

Community-led conservation is the pursuit of conservation goals through strategies that emphasize the role of local residents in natural resource decision-making.

In cultures across the world, local gender norms mean that men and women use natural resources differently and have different traditional ecological knowledge. WWF prioritizes women’s participation in community-led conservation initiatives to give all groups that may be affected by or have something to contribute to natural resource management rules the opportunity to contribute to the development of those rules. By raising up women’s traditional resource knowledge and uses as important and empowering women to not only partake but also lead in natural resource decision-making, women become powerful leaders for sustainability in their families and communities. Inevitably, community-led conservation also involves support for rural livelihoods based on sustainable management and use of natural resources.

Farming for devil's claw in Namibia

Helping women adapt to climate change

Kamala Poudel, leader of the Community Learning and Action Centers (CLAC),

In many developing countries women are particularly vulnerable to climate change—for example, if water supplies dwindle due to increasing droughts, they must walk further to fetch water. They also tend to be less well educated than men and have fewer savings to help them recover from shocks. WWF works with partners to help women adapt to climate change. 

In Nepal, a strong process has been developed that first empowers women who face barriers to participate actively in community adaptation processes. This includes identifying their specific climate vulnerabilities and ensuring that solutions for them are included in local climate adaptation plans. The plans are then implemented; activities can range from rainwater harvesting and improving water use efficiency, to introducing climate-adapted vegetable crops. If more intense rainfall threatens to cause landslides on degraded slopes, the sites are stabilized and restored. WWF aims to help women adapt to climate change while also building the resilience of the ecosystems that support them.

Increasing access to land and natural resources to secure livelihoods

In many developing countries women still do not have full legal rights to land or are unable to exercise their rights to land because of persistent discriminatory social norms and practices. In the remote region of Oshwe in the Salonga landscape, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the customary system remains the primary means of access to power and land for local communities. Most often, land belongs to the community or the clan. Women in Oshwe are not able to own property, are always under the control of a male member of the family, and are dependent on the right to use land as granted by husbands, fathers, brothers, or brothers-in-law—and such rights are revocable at any time. This unequal sociopolitical situation exacerbates inequalities and hardship for women trying to support their families.

In order to help secure livelihoods for the women of Oshwe, WWF-trained facilitators raised awareness among five women’s associations—reaching over 150 women—on gender and on their rights in natural resource management. They accompanied them in discussions with authorities to obtain legal documents for securing community land through their officially recognized associations. Representatives of these women’s associations advocated for their rights and, with WWF’s support, negotiated the land title contracts with traditional chiefs and validated their decisions with regional authorities. Today, these women’s associations have obtained property titles notarized by the administrative authority—allowing women to secure their community land for long-term use. This power of such official agreements means that each association can perform its sustainable agroforestry activities without fear their land rights will be revoked, and that they can secure their livelihood and contribute effectively to reducing deforestation for an unlimited time. It’s a whole new level of security in their lives.

Improving health

WWF and its partners provide health support—such as improved drinking water, sanitation, nutrition and food security, and family planning and reproductive health—to people in many remote communities. By empowering women, youth, and groups facing barriers with the information and skills they need to manage water, produce food, or make household decisions, they become change agents to help improve their community’s health and well-being.

One way WWF does this is to empower communities to improve their drinking water supplies, hygiene practices, and sanitation, hence reducing women’s work fetching water and reducing the incidence of water-borne diseases, while also improving management of the water catchments that provide their water supplies. WWF also promotes food and nutrition security by working with small-scale farmers—a huge percentage of whom are women. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, women in developing countries account for 43% of small-scale farmers and two-thirds of all livestock keepers.

By improving their production practices, women can not only increase the food available for their families but also their purchasing power to buy a diversity of foods they cannot produce themselves. Adoption of climate-smart, environmentally sustainable agricultural practices can also contribute to improved soil quality and reduced habitat conversion.

Finally, where there is unmet family planning need, WWF takes an approach referred to as Population, Health and the Environment (PHE). Working through synergistic links between human and ecosystem health, integrated projects such as PHE, improve human well-being, help encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and promote sustained delivery of ecosystem services in the medium to long term. This, in turn, can improve community livelihoods for people today and in the future.


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