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Gender-balanced work places are better for the environment

'When it comes to environmental conservation, the presence of women matters'

Katie O'Malley
Friday 22 March 2019 14:12 GMT
Young women talk about what International Women's Day means to them

When more women are involved in group decisions about the environment, the world benefits, according to a new study.

Conducted by the University of Chicago and published in Nature Climate Change, the study involved 440 forest users (members in the forest management decision-making process) from three developing countries and found that groups with 50/50 gender quotas conserved more trees.

Researchers say the study highlights the way gender quotas for local governing bodies may help to reduce global deforestation and improve gender inequality.

"When policymakers think about what to do to increase conservation around the world, gender quotas don't even come up as a viable policy instrument," said senior author Krister Andersson, a political science professor and researcher at the Institute of Behavioural Science.

"This study suggests they should."

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To conduct the research, the team travelled to 31 villages near collectively-managed forests in Indonesia, Peru and Tanzania.

During their trip, they staged a day-long “game” in which local forest users were split into groups of eight and asked to make decisions about how many trees they would harvest from a shared forest.

Half the groups had gender quotas, requiring that 50 per cent of participants were women, while the other half had no quotas.

In the first stage of the game, all participants anonymously chose how many trees they would cut down, in the knowledge that they would receive a small payment (5 tokens) for each tree.

In the second stage, however, they were told that an external organisation would pay them 160 tokens as a group if they decided not to cut any trees down. The elected leader would also have the opportunity to distribute the tokens.

Researchers found that the groups in which there was a gender quota reduced their harvesting rate by 52 per cent when an incentive was introduced and also distributed the payments for conserving more fairly.

Meanwhile, the control group without a quota reduced its harvest by just 39 per cent.

"It appears that it is not the gender quota by itself that is making a difference, but rather the combination with the conservation incentive," said Andersson.

"Maybe women have stronger environmental preferences but having a seat at the table and a payment for foregoing the immediate benefits of cutting down trees empowers them to act."

The study also found that there was no difference to results when the chosen leader was a man or woman. However, if the majority of participant members were female, fewer trees were cut down.

"The big takeaway here is that when it comes to environmental conservation, the presence of women matters," said Cook.

The news comes two years after a study, conducted by economists at the London School of Economics, found gender quotas increase the competence of organisations by leading to the displacement of "mediocre" men.

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