When More Women are Involved in Decision-Making, Groups Environmentally Conserve More

According to a new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder, when more women are involved in group decisions about land management, the group conserves more, particularly when offered financial incentives to do so. Previous research has shown that women tend to have a greater affinity for the environment, but are often left out of decision-making roles and therefore do not have the opportunity to voice their opinions about conservation.

For this study, the research team traveled to 31 villages near collectively managed forests in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania. They staged a day-long tabletop simulation game in which local forest users were divided 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 percent of members were women. Half had no quotas.

In the first stage of the game, all participants anonymously chose how many trees they would cut down, knowing that they would receive a small payment (5 tokens) for each tree. In the second stage, the participants were told that an external organization would pay them 160 tokens as a group if they didn’t cut any trees down and the elected leader would decide how to distribute those tokens.

The results found that groups with the gender quota were more likely to reduce their harvesting rate and distribute payments equally. There was no difference between groups when there was no financial incentives, but once cash was offered, the groups with a quota reduced their harvesting by 51 percent while the control group only cut harvesting by 39 percent.

“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 senior author Krister Andersson, a political science professor. “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.”

Additionally, the results found that it did not make much difference whether the chosen leader was a man or woman; when the majority of members were women, fewer trees were cut down.

“The big takeaway here is that when it comes to environmental conservation, the presence of women matters,” said lead author Nathan Cook, a postdoctoral researcher fellow.

The full study, “Gender Quotas Increase the Equality and Effectiveness of Climate Policy Interventions,” was published in Nature Climate Change. It may be accessed here.


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