This report looks at women’s access to and control of natural resources, especially water and forests. While it does not specifically look at women’s access to land, access to other natural resources are strongly linked to ownership and control of land (IFAD 2007; FAO 2007). As women continue to face restrictions on land ownership and control over land due to socially constructed norms that favour men as the primary benefactors of economic resources, women also face restriction on access to most natural resources.
The literature on women’s access to non-land natural resources is limited and dominated by the water and forestry sectors. This report presents a small selection of the most relevant material, chosen on the basis of being the most relevant and from the most authoritative sources. It has also taken into account recommendations from experts in the field.
While women are disproportionately the users of natural resources such as water and forest products, they are often forced to negotiate access to these resources through male relatives. This leaves women vulnerable to insecure access rights as well as labour exploitation, as men may decide to take advantage of the resources women have collected or produced (World Bank 2009).
As the main users of natural resources, women are the primary sufferers of environmental degradation. Scarcity of water, forest products, or wildlife products means that women have to travel long distances in order to collect water, firewood, or food products for basic household needs, negatively impacting on the time they can devote to other activities. This also leaves them vulnerable to gender based violence or animal attacks.
Even where formalisation of property rights has been encouraged, there is some evidence that this may not necessarily serve the interests of women, as formal title is likely to be invested in the head of the household (i.e. mostly husbands) (World Bank 2009). Formal property rights may not increase natural resource access for women without changes to restrictive gender norms.
Interventions that have attempted to improve women’s access to water, have often failed to fully understand women’s needs, with the effect of low levels of women’s participation. Where interventions have properly mainstreamed gender and invested in women’s participation, the benefits to women have been more substantial.
Evidence from numerous projects shows that projects that improve women’s access to resources do not necessarily change the dynamic at the household level and may not necessarily lead to decreased workload for women.