In a fruitful international collaboration, UNESCO recently published a policy brief co-authored by colleagues at UMass Boston’s Center for Governance and Sustainability and our center at the University of Rwanda, CoEB (linked above). The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn greater attention to the challenges of zoonotic diseases, and, in turn, how public health crises disproportionately burden women of the Global South. I authored the policy brief’s first lesson on gender-transformative environmental governance. I proposed a number of steps to help build pandemic avoidance and pandemic resiliency, with particular attention to women’s needs:

  • Microloans: Investing in women’s small- and medium-sized enterprises focused on raising domestic protein
    (chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits) could reduce women’s dependency on bushmeat and the income it generates.
  • Putting women’s names on assets to increase entrepreneurship: A notable challenge to enabling women to survive pandemic-induced deprivation, and refrain from environmentally unsustainable practices for survival, is to ensure they own assets in their own name. Many women spend decades farming land to which they have no title, which means they can’t use the land as collateral to take out bank loans to build the businesses that would make them resilient to pandemics.
  • Payment for Ecological Services (PES): Gender mainstreaming in PES plans is more likely to alleviate financial vulnerabilities that can drive women to environmentally unsustainable practices and toward fulfilling their roles as environmental stewards. This requires a recognition of the value of environmental resources women depend on, and creating schemes that compensate them accordingly.
  • Increased vocational training for women in environmental management: Conservation areas across Africa have benefitted from the training and employment of women as environmental stewards. Increased employment in thisarea not only eases women’s financial vulnerabilities during a pandemic but increases their power to mitigateenvironmental damage caused by public health crises.
  • Policies to increase female students in STEM: Female scientists and practitioners are underrepresented at the highest levels of medicine and public health, and at nearly all levels of biology, technology, engineering, and other science fields vital to environmental conservation. By increasing investment in young women in STEM, both conservation and public health efforts will increase their intellectual and professional capacities, the number of leaders, and gain important gender-specific insights on how to tackle pandemic-induced problems that threaten health and conservation.

One of the many reasons I love working in Rwanda is the vast interdisciplinarity of our research teams and our capacity to draw from academic, policy, and NGO expertise. This policy brief (my first partnership with primatologists!) is an impressive example of that collaboration at work.