The gender approach in the conservation and sustainable management of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve

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The Yasuní Program embarked on the challenge of working for the conservation and sustainable development of the Biosphere Reserve of Yasuni (BRY). This is an exceptional ecosystem but it is fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of large-scale economic activities. The rich natural and cultural heritage combined with the management complexity of the integrated territory has led to special treatment of the BRY by the country as a whole.

The management strategies for the conservation of natural resources in the BRY emphasize mechanisms that ensure broad and effective stakeholder participation. Those stakeholders which use, operate, maintain and market forest resources, soil and water are given special emphasis. The Yasuní Program recognizes that men and women relate differently to the environment and therefore, the way they use, control, access, and benefit from natural resources differs.

The gender mainstreaming and multiculturalism approach brought together women in two different roles. Those that developed public policies for the management of the BRY, and those that concentrated on field activities (sustainable livelihoods projects).

These activities built self-esteem, confidence and empowerment to the women. As a result of this process, the Municipality of Orellana has developed public participation plans and programs, gender- sensitive budgets and and an Equal Opportunity Plan. A School Leadership Program and a Women's Bureau were also developed. The Waorani Women's Association of Ecuador became stronger through these planning tools and gained prominence in the Management Committee of the BRY. Women involved in the project began breeding fish and chickens, started savings and credit activities and made crafts. They gained autonomy through food and financial security.

Purpose of the activity

The conservation and sustainable development of the Biosphere Reserve of Yasuni (BRY) is unique. The uniqueness and fragility of this ecosystem, the vulnerability towards the impacts of large-scale economic activities, the rich natural and cultural heritage, the complexity of their integrated territory, are among the factors that require special treatment by the country as a whole. In this context, the program strategy in Yasuní focuses on:

  1. The implementation of national policies and local management conservation of the BRY: integrating land management on the reserve, strengthening capacities to control the negative impacts of economic activities in large scale, national policy protection of towns in voluntary isolation and the country's initiative to keep the oil in the ground.
  2. The local management conservation of the BRY; community conservation, sustainable management of natural and cultural heritage, and environment quality improvement. In addition, provide support to the development of an environmental, sustainable and productive community in the buffer zone in BRY . The regional governments and communities developed their local capacity to manage the BRY- through financially sustainable mechanisms for conservation with particular emphasis on the Yasuni National Park.

The Yasuní program sought to identify different elements in order to guide the development process of each protected area with “efficient governance". The protected area must meet a number of attributes to qualify, among which are: i) participation ii ) the rule of law; iii) transparency; iv) understanding v) orientation consensus vi) equity. These and other attributes were analyzed and articulated in a methodological framework adapted to reality and particularities of the socio, political, economic and environmental context of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.

Original issue addressed by the activity

Ecuador is facing serious environmental problems. These problems are related to the natural heritage reduction, with a high rate of deforestation and many animal species seriously threatened. The loss of agro-biodiversity has been fast and eroded land is used for productive purposes against the nature of the soil. The natural heritage reduction has had a direct impact on the most vulnerable populations, whose livelihood depends on the exploitation of natural resources such as forests, soils and water. This has also contributed to the depletion of an export model. This model focused on activities which productivity levels that affect the environment deterioration.

The main causes of natural reduction and environmental degradation are related to: i) the inequality of access, use and management of natural resources: ii) the high dependence on natural resources by the economy; and ii) the existence of unsustainable patterns for production and consumption.

These causes have contributed to the development of an unsustainable socio-economic model. This model undermines the basis of the natural heritage. The incomes generated from this socioeconomic model have not been proportionally reinvested in creating opportunities and capabilities, or enforcing the rights of the majority of the population (eg health, education). In order to address these causes, women’s empowerment and their participation in the decision making of public policies, as well as the development sustainable of livelihoods, is essential.

Strategy / approach chosen to address the issue

The Yasuni experience strengthens the economic, cultural, social, environmental, and collective rights of various state institutions. It also raises awareness on gender inequalities and ethnic identity.

The Yasuni experience has shown that for governance efficient, the implementation of the human rights approach is key. This approach was developed during the design phase; the intervention addressed technical and financial assistance to local populations, but also framed the vision of working with different actors. These actors are capable of recognizing their own rights and demanding these rights for themselves. These rights include the right to a healthy environment, to live out of poverty, for food security, cultural rights, civil rights, collective rights and, especially, women’s rights.

The gender mainstreaming strategy for the management of the territories and the community strategy in the development of sustainable livelihoods succeeds in the establishment of participatory interventions. These interventions collated the main needs of the communities’ through an inclusive and participatory approach that included farmers / settlements / indigenous and local authorities.

Implementation of the strategy / chosen approach

During the implementation phase, UN and other technical agencies teams were trained on how to use tools to specify the gender approach in their field activities and projects. During the mid-term evaluation the programme enforce this approach in all program activities.

The main focus of the joint program among the the Biosphere Reserve of Yasuni and the Municipality of Orellana was gender equity with emphasis on women rights, in order to strengthen and create new public policies to empower women.

Technical support was provided to various women's organizations such as; the Association of Women Waorani of Ecuador (AMWAE). This support aimed to strengthen the organization through planning tools. Collective rights were supplemented with women rights. Community leader, Manuela Ima, invited all the community women to join the project and played a huge role in the training process. She states: this project represents a fight for women collective rights and a fight against the oil companies.

The Management Plan of Yasuni National Park defines a vision for their roles and needs. Workshops were organized for Waorani women. In these workshops the male participation was minimal. These allowed women to express their thoughts freely.

The projects sustainable livelihoods, community tourism and food security initiative developed a Gender Diagnoses. This Diagnosis created a baseline and potential targets to work on gender equity.

Results and Impacts

  • The program brought together women in two roles; those that developed public policies for the management of the YBR, and those that concentrated on field activities (sustainable livelihoods projects). These activities built self-esteem, confidence and empowerment to the women.
  • As a result of this process, the Municipality of Orellana has developed public participation plans and programs, gender- sensitive budgets and and an Equal Opportunity Plan. A School Leadership Program and a Women's Bureau were also developed. The Women Bureau was among the largest participatory budgets in 2011, after taking the training on gender budgets. The Leadership School, empower women with the right tools to bring to their organizations the gender equity approach.
  • The AMWAE was strengthened through planning tools such as; the Institutional Diagnostic Approach Strategy, the Strategic Plan 2010 - 2015 and the training plan.
  • The gender approach was incorporated in the Sustainable Development Tourism Guides for PNY.
  • The women empowerment and inclusion were also perceived in different activities related to the management of the YBR. The Waorani women gained prominence on the CGRBY and on the Assembly of the Committee, under the leadership of the AMWAE.
  • Women from communities participating in the project of breeding fish and chickens and developing savings and credit funds, gained autonomy through food and financial security. They now have an income as a result of their efforts. This made them feel more confident about their future, especially those women who achieved greater independence and contributed to the household economy with greater resources. In addition, the women are now managing the finances of their own businesses independently. They gained accounting skills which also contributed to their empowerment. The women’s knowledge was indeed a great resource for personal growth. The Women now own their money and supplies and manage their own savings. Women also provided loans to other community members and helped others who had lost their jobs.
  • The community showed a clear impact after awareness campaign on women's rights was launched. As a result, the collaboration on tourism services between genders increased. Roles traditionally assigned to women, such as cleaning or food preparation were taken by both genders. There was also noticeable impact on interpersonal behavior.


Guide for women leaders ; facilitating the learning process of women in the Canton Orellana - ONUMUJERES

  • Training module for leaders in environment - ONUMUJERES - GMO
  • Training module for leaders in health and food security - ONUMUJERES - GMO
  • Training module for leaders in gender and development - ONUMUJERES - GMO
  • Diagnosis Approach and Institutional Strategies for AMWAE - ONUMUJERES
  • Strengthening Technical Support in AMWAE, Technical Report - Political Final - ONUMUJERES
  • AMWAE - Accountability 2006-2009 - ONUMUJERES
  • Training module for leaders in civic and leadership tools - ONUMUJERES - GMO
  • Training module for leaders in social economy and productive initiatives - ONUMUJERES - GMO
  • Network on Domestic Violence Prevention and gender in Francisco de Orellana, Report of Campaign to promote Nonviolence - 2009, ONUMUJERES-GMO

Documents available at:

Next Steps

The Human Rights, Citizenship and Equal Opportunity for Women Programme was launched in 2010, in the council of Francisco de Orellana. The Programme aims to promote human rights, increase political participation and financial security and to provide technical and financial assistance. The strengthening of the Leadership School was also envisaged as part of this project. These Programme addressed women especially with the aim to provide training in leadership and teamwork knowledge, skills and motivation and guidelines to different organizations and groups. The programme represents now one of the main processes in the GADMFO.

Potential replication / application

Many of the may be taken up by other development organization and conservation. Lessons such lessons learned during the implementation phase of the Biosphere Reserve of Yasuni such as; the road map and identification of activities for investment projects in the field (production, education, planning, and governance, among others) are meaningful experience to guide practice in other context.

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