The challenge of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use has significant gender dimensions because women, who play an increasingly important role in biodiversity management, are among the poorest and most disempowered people in many societies. Research concerned with the equitable and sustainable use of biodiversity must consequently address the inequities between women and men associated with access to resources and knowledge.
Women are crucial actors in biodiversity management in their multiple roles as farmers, herders, forest gatherers, primary health care givers, drawers of water, food processors, market vendors, selectors and preservers of seeds, soil conservationists and keepers of the natural and built environment.
Increasing understanding among rural people, development workers and policy-makers about the value of men's and women's distinct knowledge and skills related to the management of biodiversity by documenting local knowledge, supporting debate and sharing of information on this topic with communities, NGOs, research institutes and policy-makers.
Through their different activities and management practices, men and women have often developed different expertise and knowledge about the local environment, plant and animal species and their products and uses. These gender-differentiated local knowledge systems play a decisive role in the in situ conservation, management and improvement of genetic resources for food and agriculture. It is clear that the decision about what to conserve depends on the knowledge and perception of what is most useful to the household and local community.
The LinKS project was a regional effort in Southern Africa aimed at raising awareness about how rural men and women use and manage biological diversity. The project, which was developed in 1998, sought to help development practitioners recognize that farmers have knowledge, practices and skills that are often highly sustainable and respectful of the natural ecosystems they depend on for their food and livelihoods.