Women Need a Seat at the Table for Sustainable Development

Woman weaving traditional Mayan hammock.
Yucatan, Mexico Women from the San Agustin ejido cooperative weaving traditional Mayan hammocks to sell in Merida near San Agustin, Yucatan. © Erich Schlegel

Rita Canul is from the Ejido San Agustín, a small community on the edge of the last remaining swath of forest reserves in the state of Yucatán in Southern Mexico. Throughout Yucatan, much of the forests have been cut down to make way for expansive agriculture and ranching. In San Agustin, though, Rita and her neighbors are implementing improved agricultural and forestry practices so that they can spare their forests from the same fate.

The community is taking an integrated approach to development, considering all areas of their community as a whole and making decisions based on what is best for the entire landscape. This includes more than technical considerations about what type of agricultural practices to implement—it also considers social diversity and inclusion.

La Alianza Mexico REDD+ with the Mexican government are working together for rural women to be recognized in their experience, capacities, and contributions to sustainable forest management.

In particular, Rita and several other community members have identified the ways that men and women value different aspects of the landscape and interact in distinct ways with the forest. By identifying these gender differences, the community has been able to develop strategies that take both men and women into account. Rita played a leading role in the process and has now been elected as Coordinator of the Regional Producers Group by her peers. In this role, she makes key land-use decisions and leads the community’s approach to sustainable landscape management.

Several years ago, though, Rita’s participation in this work wasn’t possible. In fact, it wasn’t considered relevant.

In Mexico, fewer than 20% of ejido and communal land owners are women. Since communal land-use decisions are taken by an assembly made up only of official land owners, women are effectively left out of the process.Too often this leads to policies that only consider a small part of the development picture. Women’s lack of participation also leads to less compensation for women via subsidy programs, less access to technologies, and fewer conservation benefits on the management of these lands.

Mexico is not the only place this happens. Historically, across the globe, women have been absent from policies, programs and projects for the rural sector, especially in forest-based communities. This is unfortunate, because women and men the world over value different aspects of their landscapes. For example, in one workshop conducted by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), both women and men were asked what forests provide to the community. Most of the men identified values like timber and game, while the women identified values like water and medicine. It’s clear that all of these things are important, and policies related to forest conservation and rural development need to consider the values of both men and women if they are to be effective.

Research shows that this is the case around the world—ensuring greater participation of women in the governance structure for protecting a forest leads to better resource conservation and regeneration. If we want to make progress on these issues, women need a seat at the table alongside men.

Given the importance of incorporating a gender perspective in forest conservation and rural development, TNC, working through the Mexico REDD+ Program, financed by USAID, has pioneered an effort to place gender considerations at the forefront of sustainable development efforts in Mexico. Over the last six years, TNC along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has implemented a strategy to effectively design and structure legal instruments and public policy for gender equality in forest conservation. Through this work, gender considerations were incorporated into eight different policies and programs, including the National Climate Change Program and the National REDD+ Strategy. This will ensure that Mexico’s path towards a rural sustainable development model contains a gender perspective at the forefront.

On top of the advancements in public policy, TNC has been working on the ground in field projects with communities like Rita’s to implement trainings on gender equity. TNC and our local partners, such as Pronatura Sur and Bioasesores, developed capacity-building workshops centered around three phases: discussing the differences between men and women in relation to landscape management, identifying tools for incorporating a gender perspective in forest conservation activities, and incorporating the tools into the rural development project cycle.


More diverse stakeholders are now coming to the table, identifying gender gaps and helping to guide gender responsive actions in all sorts of community projects.

The impact is most evident in cases like Rita, where a strong woman is engaging her community and through her continued leadership ensuring that gender stereotypes are questioned daily and a gender perspective is incorporated into the conservation work in the community. More diverse stakeholders are now coming to the table, identifying gender gaps and helping to guide gender responsive actions in all sorts of community projects.

Placing women at the center of this process allows for co-management of these natural resources and will, in turn, help the world meet these ambitious climate change goals. With new policies and programs, we can begin to make real progress—but only if women have a seat at the table.


  • REDD+ Policy Brief Thumbnail

    REDD+ Policies and Projects in Mexico


    This policy brief incorporates a gender perspective in climate change and REDD+ policies and projects in Mexico.

  • Thumbnail of Mexico REDD+ Infographic

    Alianza Mexico REDD+ Infographic


    In only six years, The Mexico REDD+ Program has managed to include and defend the rights of rural women with various benefits. See the infographic for more information.


Global Insights

Check out our latest thinking and real-world solutions to some of the most complex challenges facing people and the planet today. Explore Our Insights

Visit for more information on The Nature Conservancy work in Mexico. The Conservancy has built strong partnerships with the Mexican and local governments as well as several local partners. To sign up for their English/Spanish newsletter, click here (Note: the page is in Spanish).