Boosting the ranks of women guardians of biodiversity

May 21, 2021

Today, 22 May we mark United Nations Biodiversity Day. Biological diversity is a world heritage, a most valuable gift, a vital necessity for the economic and social development of humanity. The conservation, replenishment and sustainable use of natural resources makes it possible to address a whole spectrum of challenges such as climate change, reduction of potable water scarcity, food security and sustainable development.

However, today more than ever, the threat of extinction of both individual species and entire ecosystems, caused by human activity is great. The theme for 2021 is "We're part of the solution #ForNature", emphasizing that we are all part of nature, so we must be part of the solution for biodiversity loss and climate change. 

From nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better. That is the main message from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which also emphasizes the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Despite the awareness of their role as agents of change, the recognition and promotion of women's knowledge of the sustainable use of biological resources in local communities and the enormous value of gender equality and women's empowerment in generating the social, economic and climate benefits of sustainability, women’s representation in governance and decision-making is still low.

Women make up more than 50% of population of Kazakhstan, but they are still underrepresented in many fields, including science, finance, engineering, public administration, and environmental initiatives. In 2021 Kazakhstan ranked 80th out of 156 countries in Global Gender Gap Index Rank, falling by 8 positions since 2020. The representation of women at the decision-making level remains one of the key aspects of Kazakhstan's declining position in this ranking.

To date the employment of women in national nature parks and reserves of Kazakhstan remains limited. According to official statistics the proportion of women employed in large and medium-sized enterprises in agriculture, forestry and fisheries was 28.3 % in 2019. However there are many inspiring examples of women who protect forests, fight  wildlife poaching, manage nature reserves or engage in hunting.

One of them is forestry engineer Saltanat Userbayeva. She joined her profession in 2000 and has been researching and preserving the biodiversity of Kazakhstan for more than 20 years. Since 2015, Saltanat has been working in Ile-Alatau State National Park and manages the Department of Scientific Research and Mountain Biodiversity.

Saltanat Userbayeva has been working on issues of biodiversity conservation for more than 20 years. Photo: Ile-Alatau State National Nature Park

According to S. Userbayeva, people who work in the field of biodiversity really love their job, but at the same time there are some problems. In general, the forest sector of country is experiencing a lack of funding, which primarily affects the remuneration of specialists and the quality of the material and technical knowledge of specially protected natural areas.

However, despite the difficulties of profession, Saltanat finds her work in the national park very inspiring. For here she had the opportunity to observe the unique and untrammeled nature of Kazakhstan first hand. Today, under her leadership, monitoring of natural processes is carried out, including monitoring the plant and animal population, as well as the air basin.

"Working in the national park completely changed my attitude to my profession and problem of biodiversity conservation. I feel like this is where I belong”,  said Saltanat.

At the same time Saltanat recognizes that the representation of women the in professions related to the conservation of biodiversity remains low. The reason for this is the existing gender stereotypes and the social roles of women and men in society.

“The first time I encountered gender stereotypes in the profession was while studying at the university. There were few girls in the Forestry Faculty and I was one of them.

“Of course, the job of a forester or hunting expert is not easy – there are constant trips, off-road journeys, working in the mountains under different weather conditions. But it doesn’t mean that such work should exclude women. I am surrounded by great women experts  who do a great  job and are valuable personnel in our profession", said Saltanat.

Saltanat Userbayeva leads the monitoring of natural processes in the national park Photo: A. Belgubaeva/ UNDP Kazakhstan

Gulmira Nysanbayeva manages the Department of Tourism and Science in one of the national parks of Kazakhstan Photo: Charyn State National Nature Park

Gulmira Nysanbayeva has been working in the Charyn State National Nature Park since its foundation in 2004. Having worked her way up from a secretary to a management position, Gulmira recalls how her love for nature, her desire to participate in its protection and preservation radically changed her life and the idea of her profession. Today she is the Deputy Director for Science and Tourism and is responsible for the development of eco-education and ecotourism.

"Working in the national park gave me opportunity to take a fresh look at the problems of biodiversity conservation. First of all, we need to pay more attention to eco-educational activities, developing eco-culture among both the younger and older generations" said Gulmira.

At the same time Gulmira notes that such problems as the low motivation of young specialists remain relevant.

"Of course to increase the prestige of forest professions, providing socio-economic incentives is important, such as salary increases, social support, and so on. At the same time, it is also important to attract more women to these professions because the more women are employed in the forest and nature protection sphere, the more chances there are to preserve the diversity of our nature," Gulmira noted.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan promotes gender equality and women's empowerment through the implementation of the country programme for 2021-2025, including biodiversity conservation initiatives. The UNDP project “Biodiversity Finance Initiative” (BIOFIN) provides countries, including Kazakhstan, with a methodology for implementing financial mechanisms to mobilize financial resources for the conservation of biodiversity and provide recommendations for the implementation of these mechanisms to achieve national biodiversity goals.

Financial mechanisms promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as a result of their implementation. The introduction of new financial mechanisms is based on changing existing and preparing new legal norms, testing, studying the experience of other countries, their approaches, increasing the capacity of industry experts, and providing extensive information about the problems and opportunities for financing biodiversity.

As we celebrate United Nations Biodiversity Day on 22 May, we need to recognize the critical role of biodiversity in sustainable development and the important role women can play as guardians of our natural heritage.  The paucity of women in decision-making roles related to biodiversity and environmental governance in Kazakhstan highlights the need for change to improve their participation in biodiversity conservation processes and to give women a voice in managing and protecting the country’s wild, untrammeled “monuments” of nature and its wildlife.

Photo credit: Anel Khassenkyzy

Photo credit: Anel Khassenkyzy