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Towards gender equality in forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture

Woman planting rice. Photo by Deepak kumar via Unsplash

This review article examines the impact of gender in the forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture sectors and provides empirical evidence for initiatives which have sought to redress the negative and inequitable disparities. The paper provides an overview of the major issues of women in these sectors and provides useful examples of successful programs in low- and middle-income countries. Women play a significant role in these sectors, but their work is often invisible, unregulated and vulnerable. The article calls for further efforts to eliminate gender-blind and biased policy and governance and expand and share successful initiatives.


This review article seeks to examine the gender gaps in the forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture sectors and evidence the strategies that have been used to lift gendered barriers and promote gender equality. The article draws on the Gendered Food System Framework developed by Njuki et al. (2021) to assess the impact of: discriminatory gendered social norms, relations that shape women’s access to and control over resources, women’s agency in the agri-food sector and the role of policy and governance in shaping gender gaps across sectors. 

The authors cite the global importance of these four sectors in sustaining rural livelihoods and supporting food and nutrition security. They cite that one-third of the global population and over 90 percent of people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for food, shelter, fodder, energy, income, medicine and more. The livestock sector provides livelihoods to 1.7 billion people globally and produces half of global agricultural GDP. Fish are a critical source of protein and micronutrients for 3.3 billion people and 800 million people rely on income from aquatic food value chains. The authors thus focus on low- and middle-income countries and rural areas as well as small-scale actors and enterprises rather than industrial production and relations. 

The researchers point out that women are often concentrated in informal, insecure and more poorly paid positions of the value chain than men. The authors make the case that this makes the work of women often invisible, unregulated and thus vulnerable. In patriarchal societies, women’s access to land is often mediated through their male relationships (fathers, uncles, husbands etc.) and women’s rights to land are often more insecure. The authors say that limited land ownership can have wider impacts, including affecting women’s ability to access credit and other vital resources. They also highlight that gender plays a part in decision-making processes, with women lacking access to decision making spaces or lacking power in these spaces, even when they dominate the workforce such as in the selling and processing of fish. The researchers link the production and reproduction of these oversights with gender-blind and biassed policies. These include national forestry laws and policies which lack provisions for inheritance which are sensitive to how gender impacts land ownership and tenure. For example, payments for carbon sequestration can be tied to land ownership which can exclude women and younger people who are not registered on land titles. 

The researchers assess policy, programmatic and civil society efforts to address gender and social inequalities in these sectors. Whilst there are many such initiatives, the researchers say that empirical evidence of the impact of these initiatives is scarce. Where evidence does exists there are often significant methodological issues and cherry-picked cases. They find a growing number of initiatives have focused on shifting socialised gender norms and attitudes under the banner of Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs). They highlight contact zones in India as an example of a forestry program which brought together different gendered and social groups for dialogue and social learning related to collective forest management. The authors also found initiatives to increase women’s access to land and resources such as the African Women’s Network for the Community Management of Forests in Cameroon, which supported women from a fisher’s cooperative for conservation work in degraded mangrove forests and coastal villages. The project was conscious of cultural norms which grant land ownership to the planters of trees on a given portion of land. The authors also find several initiatives which seek to increase the presence, agency and influence of women in decision-making spaces. They cite peer to peer mentoring and women’s support groups as effective programs. The authors note a clear gap in the literature related to effective policies and governance initiatives which have successfully redressed these gendered barriers. They instead cite several promising policy and governance discussions which have not actually been implemented, such as mandated quotas for women’s participation in executive and office-barring positions.

The authors note the critically important role of civil society and women’s collectives as key actors advocating for change from the ground up. They also offer five recommendations for improving gender conditions in forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture.

  1. Strengthen the agency of women and marginalised groups by supporting the collective action and advocacy of women working in these sectors. The authors state a necessary step is recognizing the contributions of all genders and of marginalised groups in the specific sectors, and legitimacy of these groups in decision-making processes.
  2. Equitably improve access to and control over resources and assets for gender and social groups. To support the effective use, processing, management, and trade of products from forests, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, women's access to and control over private or collectively owned assets (such as means of transport, fishing and aquaculture equipment, and processing and storage technologies) must also be enhanced.
  3. Promote social and cultural norms related to lifting barriers to women's participation, voice and influence and access to and control over resources. These approaches must acknowledge the interdependence of women and men in livelihood systems, and engage with all gender (and marginalised) groups as agents of change.
  4. Develop and implement policies, regulations and institutions which are responsive to gender. These policies must be coherent with national gender and sectoral policies, within and beyond agriculture, and backed by political will, adequate resourcing, and institutional capacities.
  5. Improve data systems to recognize and account for the contributions of women and marginalised groups across sectors. Closing data gaps calls for investments and improved quantitative and qualitative methodologies to account for unpaid and informal activities, norms, power relations, quality of participation, and gendered costs and benefits in these sectors.


The forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture sectors are critical for sustaining rural livelihoods and achieving food and nutrition security around the world. Yet, these sectors are marred by significant gender and social inequalities. This review examines gender gaps in these sectors and what has worked to reduce inequalities. We show that gender norms underpin the invisibility, undervaluation, and weight of women's labor; rural women's typically limited and precarious control over resources; gender-unequal influence over decision-making and agency; and gender-blind and discriminatory policies, data systems, and governance in these sectors. We evidence the diverse and multipronged strategies that have been used to lift these barriers, from the individual-to the system-level and spanning informal to formal institutions, to promote gender equality.


Elias, M.,et. al., 2024. Towards gender equality in forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture. Global Food Security 41, 100761.

Read more here. See also the TABLE explainer What is food sovereignty?

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