Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Power, Structure, Gender Relations and Community-Based Conservation: The Cawswe Study of the Sariska Region, Rajasthan, India

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Power, Structure, Gender Relations and Community-Based Conservation: The Cawswe Study of the Sariska Region, Rajasthan, India

Article excerpt


Most current community development projects have a built in gender component. Despite the WID, WED and GAD schools of thought there is still however a long way to go in order to effectively implement these principles in conservation projects. Merely getting women a place on the policy-making agenda is not enough, especially if it comes at the cost of promoting a simplistic and often wildly inaccurate picture of gender-environment relations. This article analyses the repercussions of community-based conservation on women in terms of use, access, and control of natural resources. The area chosen is the Sariska region of Rajasthan, India. The article analyses also the role of women inside the Gram Sabbha, which is the village institution used at community level for the management of natural resources. A distinction is made between the different groups of women. The issue of women's empowerment and its importance in community-based conservation will also be discussed.

Keywords: gender and power relations, management natural resources, forest conservation, India


Over the last two decades, a growing consensus has emerged among both the academia and the development institutions on the need to experiment with new ways to work with local communities on efforts to improve the management of natural resources. The conservation/development interface poses new challenges for dealing with a multiplicity of stakeholders and social players operating at different levels and with diverging degrees of power. These dynamics lead to a constant different types of negotiation over the outcomes of conservation and development initiatives. Not only are rural communities facing off with government agencies, business interests, and nongovernmental organizations, but within the communities themselves there are also significant differences in interests, perspectives, and power. It is within rural households and communities that gender differences are most apparent.

In addition to emphasising the need for more "bottom-up" or "participatory" approaches to development, many development planners and donor agencies have become increasingly aware of the gender-specific nature of environmental degradation. In contrast to the 1950s and 1960s when traditional top-down, male-dominated development discourses left little space for either gender or environmental concerns, the current emphasis on "sustainable development" has placed both issues at the forefront of the development agenda. Two important factors which explain this shift in development thinking have been the growing awareness/popularity of the environmental movement of the early 1970s and the establishment of "women in development" (WID) approaches. These former highlight major gender inequalities in divisions of labour, access to natural resources, wage rates, participation in decision making, health and education (Cornwall, 2003, Braidotti et al. 1994).

By the mid-1980s environmental concerns had focused attention on the idea that women, as the main victims of environmental degradation, would be the most appropriate contributors to protect the environment (Agarwal, 1997, Braidotti et al., 1994, Joekes et al, 1994). As development projects have become more concerned with environmental sustainability, conservationists have begun to recognize the need to work for the benefit of local communities. A number of researchers pinpointed pointed to the important role played by that many women in developing countries play in community-based resource management and emphasised the need for development planners to factor their input into such schemes (Ceceski, 2000).

This concept played an important role in the emergence of a "women, environment and development"(WED) perspective which emphasises a "special" relationship between women and the environment (Braidotti et al. 1994, Joekes et al., 1994). In a more radical and alternative development the idea of the special women-environment link gained support among certain neo-populist and eco-feminist writers seeking a more appropriate and environmentally sensitive route to development (Shiva, 1988, Escobar, 1997. …

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