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September 2003

Socio-economic and gender sensitive indicators in the management of natural resources

Gender and Population Division
FAO Sustainable Development Department

March 2003

Part 1 of 2

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This paper is based on the work of a consultant, Ms Asa Torkelsson, prepared with the assistance of Yianna Lambrou and John Curry (FAO, Gender and Population Division). Editorial support from Barbara Hall, Tony Beck and Charles Stokes (Consultants) is gratefully acknowledged.


In spite of the many recent UN system-wide commitments and mandates to evaluate progress made in gender mainstreaming, an assessment of the current status of socio-economic and gender-sensitive (GSI) indicators in the management of natural resources revealed an almost complete lack of practical experience in this area. Not surprisingly there was a disappointingly low level of gender-sensitive monitoring of natural resource management projects. To fill these knowledge gaps, this paper develops GSI indicators through the identification of GSI factors that put differential pressure on the management and use of natural resources. A core set of GSI indicators was arrived at, based on in situ field verifications of the management of agrobiodiversity in Nepal and of reclaimed lands in Egypt, combining both qualitative and quantitative data sources. Wide in scope and application possibilities, GSI indicators can be used to monitor the impact of a specific project, but could also expand to include monitoring of whether and how the relationship between women and men and their natural resources evolves and changes over time. Thus, the systematic monitoring of GSI indicators will allow the formulation of more sustainable, efficient and effective development response, in this way making their contribution towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.


Women and men, young and old, rich and poor, carry out different work and activities, have differential access to resources, and differential decision-making authorities. The distinction between work that is carried out by women and men (a young girl often takes over her mother's work, while a young boy, his father's), rich and poor, young and old is particularly marked in rural areas in predominantly agricultural countries. Women and men and different socio-economic groups have differential access to various forms of capital and assets that they can possess (or access) them in varying proportions, and will build them up in response to their perceived and contextually determined opportunities and constraints1. The prevailing division of responsibilities is challenged by demographic phenomena, such as migration from rural to urban and semi/urban (rurban) centres, and the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in some countries, impacting on the composition of the agricultural labour force by age and sex. An increasing incidence of female-headed households has therefore been observed in many areas. This includes both a tendency towards ageing rural populations as well as an increasing incidence of child-headed households in some parts of the world. Structural adjustment programmes have also had an impact on the division of responsibilities.

Today there are convincing arguments, substantial proof and broad agreement that development responses will be more equal, efficient and sustainable when gender is mainstreamed throughout sustainable natural resource management initiatives. There are many benefits of gender mainstreaming (see Box 1).

Box 1. The Benefits of Gender Mainstreaming

Equality. Many United Nations system-wide mandates and UN Member States' commitments exist to achieve gender equality and remove gender-based discrimination. This has been recognized as necessary means to reach the Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of poor and hungry by the year 2015.

Efficiency. Societies that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant prize in terms of more poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance, and lower quality of life. For example, a World Bank review found that 74 percent of 54 completed agricultural projects with gender-related action were rated satisfactory for overall outcome, compared with 65 percent for the 81 projects that did not include gender-related action. Also, an often-quoted study estimated that gender concern increased agricultural productivity and output by more than 20 percent (Saito et al., 1994).

Sustainability. It has been noted that women are particularly and intimately linked to the environment, because of their concern for their communities and for future generations. They are shown to protect the natural ecosystems and to stand at the core of the sustainability paradigm. The division of labour in a farming household is often strict. In order to design sustainable development policies and projects, it is crucial that the different roles of women and men are understood.

In spite of the many gender mainstreaming mandates, the political will and rhetorical commitments to mainstreaming gender, few development agencies perform systematic evaluations with gender-disaggregated data. A United Nations (2000) system-wide study revealed that gender was incorporated in the regular monitoring activities in 4 of the 15 specialized agencies only, and that actually only 17 percent of projects with gender-sensitive actions intended to monitor or evaluate those actions. The following reasons have been given for the poor de facto integration of gender issues into programme monitoring and evaluation (M&E) (see Box 2).

Box 2. Reasons given for the lack of gender mainstreaming in M&E

  • Gender was not considered relevant at the design stage (ILO, 1999).
  • Legal and/or social barriers prohibit or inhibit women's participation (ILO, 1999).
  • The assumption that both women and men would automatically participate in and benefit from the programme (ILO, 1999).
  • Limited technical capacity of most countries to collect sex disaggregated data (ECLAC, 2000b).
  • Little incentive for project managers to incorporate gender analysis into their work (UN, 2000).
  • Limited budgets for gender analysis. Agencies have reported that gender analysis is eliminated whenever time or finances are tight (UN, 2000).
  • Attention to gender often declines over the life of a project (Murphy, 1997; UN, 2000).
  • Gender issues touch people personally since they deal with ideas, culture and social capital. Therefore mainstreaming is perceived in terms of power, equality and politics (World Bank, 2000a).

A large body of project-specific experience has integrated gender into project M&E systems, but the application to natural resource management is surprisingly scant. In a review of a UN Development Programme (UNDP) project documents, Beck et al. (2000) found that most project documents made no mention of the extent to which women and men were to be included in M&E, and most contained no reference to mechanisms for the collection of sex-disaggregated data. Thomas-Slayter et al. (2001) reviewed more than 50 natural resource management projects from 20 African countries with a focus on gender issues, but only five projects met the criteria of containing substantive gender-disaggregated data that demonstrated success. Thus, the level of cross-fertilization of gender and natural resource management is low.


The trend towards holistic and systemic thinking, has led to several ongoing initiatives that look for ways to integrate biophysical and social dimensions of development and aim to identify indicators to illustrate the relationship between the two. People's management of natural resources stand at the core of several initiatives, such as the IUCN and IDRC sustainability barometer2, the European Union (EU) and IISD Pressure Indices project, the FAO/UNEP project on Land Degradation Assessment of Drylands (LADA), and the European Commission (2001) framework for indicators for the economic and social dimensions of sustainable agriculture and rural development.

In spite of the agreed upon holistic approach, environmental indicators still rely on biophysical data, while human-related indicators are based on socio-economic data. Thus, environment and sustainability indicators focus on biological and environmental parameters, while gender-sensitive indicators concentrate on social parameters. At best, women are mentioned in a "black box" as "one of the social or human factors" that affect the management and use of land, and explicitly in the context of participatory approaches involving "women and other groups that have, hitherto, often been excluded".

Environmental indicators. Since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a wide variety of actors have been involved to find indicators that could measure sustainable development, ranging from the search for one single sustainability indicator that could compete with the powerful Gross Domestic Product (GDP)3, to local-specific grassroots indicators for sustainable development (World Conservation Union [IUCN] and the International Development Research Centre [IDRC])4 , via regional initiatives, for example. Agenda 21 set participation of women in the management of national ecosystems and in controlling environmental degradation among its objectives.

The same holds for the agri-environmental indicators developed by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), FAO (Food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems [FIVIMS], Global Terrestrial Observing System [GTOS], Terrestrial Ecosystem Monitoring Sites [TEMS]), and to the 48 indicators to reach the Millennium Development Goals that limits indicators for gender equity to the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education, and the ratio of literate females to males. With specific reference to agrobiodiversity indicators, World Resources Institute (WRI) (1993) formulated 22 indicators for biodiversity conservation. A more recent World Bank indicator smorgasbord ("Indicators-on-the-web"5) on the web provides decision-makers with environmental performance indicators in various technical areas, for example biodiversity. However, none of these contain gender-sensitive indicators.

Gender disaggregated indicators. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regularly monitors sex-disaggregated data in the area of education, the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the labour market, and the World Health Organization (WHO) for health. The Women's Indicators and Statistics Database (WISTAT) contains some 1,500 statistical series but only a limited number of those relate to rural areas, such as:

Gender-related development indexes include the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM). The GDI is a derivative of the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite of the same variables but with penalties (or aversion values) for gender-based inequality. The GEM compares the abilities of women and men to participate actively in economic and political life by means of income-earning power, share in professional and managerial jobs and of parliamentary seats. The two indices are limited to income earning in the formal sector, and decision-making in formal bodies, and hence may not have the power to explain gender relations in a rural development setting and for the management of natural resources.

The first attempt to systematically apply gender-sensitive indicators was done by United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 1999. ECLAC formulated regional indicators for the action areas as emerging from the Beijing Platform for Action of the 4th World Conference on Women, respecting the data constraints in the region. A series of indicators was reached, a limited number of which are relevant to rural women: gender gap in ownership of agricultural land; division of labour by sex (ratio household to working time); gender inequality in earning; and gender-differentiation within the informal sector.

There is a big gap, therefore, in available comparable GSI indicators in relation to the management of natural resources. By filling this gap, we will be able to monitor progress made towards gender equality in the natural resource sector and deliver more efficient and sustainable programmes and projects. The development of GSI indicators was undertaken as an attempt to unite the seemingly parallel streams of socio-economic and biophysical indicators.


The term indicator comes from the Latin indicare, which means to point out. It is common to describe an indicator as a pointer, a sign of change or a milestone indicating whether a project is "on track".

The most widely applied and adapted indicator framework is the Pressure-State-Response (P-S-R) framework developed by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1993. The framework was originally designed to understand the pressures of human activities on the changing state of the environment, and the societal response to this, which could feed back to mitigate the pressures or repair the natural resource6. The PSR has been widely applied in several technical areas7. Due to its causal logic and flexibility, however, this framework could also be suitable for understanding gender and socio-economic factors. Differential natural resource management and use patterns could be understood as a pressure, driving force or change indicator effecting positive or negative changes on the state of natural resources. Through identification of these socio-economic and gender-based management pressures, appropriate responses could be formulated that would allow for the transformation of negative practices and strengthening of positive practices.

Box 3. The Adapted Pressure-State-Response Framework

Gender-sensitive indicators have commonly been used to assess progress in achieving gender equality, by measuring change in the status of women and men over a period of time. In this report, socio-economic and gender sensitive (GSI) indicators will represent indicators that are in nature disaggregated by sex, age and socio-economic background as relevant markers of differential management practices. These are identified through a socio-economic and gender analysis and are analysed according to their differential pressure on natural resources.

In this context, GSI indicators highlight that women and men of different socio-economic groups impact the state of natural resources differently8. Thus, the GSI indicator can be understood to occur before the recognized pressure indicators on the environment, such as "land use change" (Indicator to Chapter 10 of Agenda 21). Also, they demonstrate that women and men, young and old, rich and poor manage agrobiodiversity differently, thus impacting differently on, for example, the "land area protected to maintain biological diversity" (Indicator to Millennium Development Goal 7). It is important to reveal who manages which resources in the farming household. For example, if men are de jure decision-makers on agrobiodiversity conservation but are not the de facto curators of agrobiodiversity, a sustainable conservation strategy communicated to men is not likely to be effective.

GSI indicators thus:

Methodology for developing indicators:

  1. Identify broad Natural Resource Management trends in the technical/geographic area by means of secondary information/sources.
  2. Conduct a Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis at the field-level to identify relevant GSI indicators
  3. Figure 1. GSI-adapted Pressure-State-Response Framework

  4. Develop objectively (quantitative) and subjectively (qualitative) verifiable NRM indicators. Indicators are developed taking into consideration (a) the identified relevant NRM areas and (b) the specific management patterns putting differential pressure on the natural resource. These indicators will demonstrate changes in GSI-specific management and use of natural resources over a period of time. Fourteen GSI indicators for agrobiodiversity, and eight GSI indicators for land were developed. When comparing the two sets, the following list of core areas in which GSI indicators affect the management of natural resources was derived:
  5. Make sure that the indicator is SMART. In its formulation, the GSI indicator should meet five SMART criteria (see Box 4). This will be the litmus test that tells us if the indicator is good or not.
  6. Establish the baseline information needed to monitor the GSI indicator. The baseline contains initial information about a situation prior to the introduction of a change (or development response). GSI indicators are taken in time and will be compared against the baseline. Monitoring GSI indicators uses a blend of qualitative and quantitative data sources (see Box 5).
  7. Monitor the indicator. Monitoring the indicator will reveal whether the gap between, for example, women and men's access to a natural resource is widening or narrowing. Narrowing of the gap means a step closer to gender equality; widening reveals greater inequality. By monitoring GSI indicators, corrective action can be taken and better-targeted development response strategies can be developed.

Box 4. Litmus test: Is the indicator SMART?

  • Specific: One indicator per objective is used. Indicators should be linked to the goal, result from one's methods, be measurable and be meaningful to stakeholders.
  • Measurable: Baseline data is used for measuring change.
  • Achievable: Measurements and time lines in terms of costs, etc. are set realistically.
  • Reliable: The same conclusions are yielded if the measurement is carried out with different tools, by different people, in similar circumstances.
  • Time-bound: Time frames should develop from the project and not be imposed on it.

Box 5. Qualitative, quantitative and hybrid data

Quantitative data is needed when there is a desire to obtain broad and comparable data, for example, across countries. Data is usually collected by formal surveys (e.g. censuses or administrative records) and is usually interpreted by statistical analysis. The level of stakeholder involvement is usually low.
Qualitative data is needed when a detailed assessment of a limited situation is required. These are generated from a range of methods, such as, inter alia, Participatory Rural/Rapid Appraisal (PRA), process and regular reporting, participatory self-evaluation systems, participant observation, attitude surveys and anthropological fieldwork, and are often analysed descriptively. There is a potentially high level of stakeholder involvement.
Hybrid data. Cross-fertilization and a combination of scientific and grassroots indicators are sometimes referred to as hybrid or merged indicators. For example, Leach and Fairhead (1996) combined remote-sensing methods with local practices to understand factors behind desertification. There are also several experiences integrating farmer and formal knowledge. There is common agreement on the usefulness of combining qualitative information for a deep and comprehensive understanding of processes and relations at the individual level, and quantitative information, for a broader and comparable macro-level understanding.

Indicators are formulated within given constraints:



Women and men, rich and poor, young and old, have different definitions of natural resources. The knowledge about, for example, a crop variety or the soil is related to one's life experience in cultivating this crop. In parts of Mali, it was found that women cultivated 30 traditional varieties while men did not cultivate any, whereas men cultivated three out of four modern varieties and women only one (Huvio & Synnevåg, 1999).

Other case studies have shown that the gender factors in seed selection varies: for example men share full responsibility for crop selection in the Timbuktu region in Northern Mali. Large variations can also be seen within a country. In India, for example, women bear most of the responsibility for selecting and storing seeds for the next season in Jeypore, while the responsibility is shared in Malayali. In the Kurichiyas community in Kerala, men decide on growing certain paddy varieties due to religious concepts of purity and pollution that prevent women from selecting and storing paddy seeds.

Nepalese women have close to full responsibility for seed selection and management of rice in the mountain area; women and men select seed together in the mid-hills, and males dominate seed selection in the hinterland. This is linked to the overall gendered participation in agricultural production, which ranges from very strong women's participation and weak male participation in the mountains, to very strong male, and marginal participation of women in the lowlands.

In management practices male responsibility is usually for mono-cropping systems and women for more diversified systems, such as home gardens often referred to as "living gene banks"10. The home gardens are often used for in situ conservation of a wide range of plant genetic resources, such as the traditional varieties that have been displaced by modern ones. Monocropping affects agrobiodiversity negatively if and when it replaces other crop varieties.


Baseline: The quantity and quality of descriptors used for a given natural resource by women and men in period 0 (baseline).

GSI data required:

  • The type and number of descriptors used for a given natural resource by women, compared to the baseline.
  • The type and number of descriptors used for a given natural resource by men, compared to the baseline.

GSI indicators:

  • The ratio between the number of descriptors used by women versus men for a given natural resource, compared to the baseline.


Access to resources is intimately linked to different spheres of responsibilities. The manager of a given crop usually controls the benefits from farming it. It has often been noted that men harvest for marketing, and women for cooking. This distinction implied in grosso modo is that women produce for subsistence (or low-value) and men for cash (or high-value) crops (Blumberg, 1991; Elson, 1996). In fact, the UNDP Human Development Report 2002 provides comparable data on women and men's allocation of time to market versus non-market activities in rural areas in selected countries. In India in 2000, men dedicated 93 percent of their time to market activities, and women only 35 percent.

"Market" is a broad term, however, and marketed produce may include roadside selling of a few items, larger market weekly fairs in a neighbouring village, bulk-selling in the capital, and trading for export. The different markets used by women and men must therefore be understood. The line between commercial and subsistence crops is not strict. Nepali mountain farmers in need of cash, irrespective of sex or socio-economic status, will sell produce destined for home consumption. The access to income influences the access to inputs needed to introduce, maintain or conserve a variety and manage land sustainably. Market expansion may have a positive or negative impact on agrobiodiversity. If a modern variety squeezes out traditional varieties because of its commercial viability, the impact is negative. If, however, the commercial value of traditional varieties increases over modern varieties, the impact may be positive.

Rural women and men have several resources at their disposal and differential access to those. The differential access to various key agricultural resources is discussed below.

If a woman's crop is added value, it may be incorporated in the male sphere of responsibilities. This was observed in the rapid intensification and commoditization of the horticultural sector in Kenya. French beans became more lucrative when European demand surged, causing men to either usurp the land allocated for production or the income derived therefrom (Dolan, 2001). Men started to plant Acacia trees in women's or shared gardens and cropland when the timber value increased in parts of West Africa. The same has been noted in rice farming where irrigation made men take over women's plots and activities in some countries (Huvio, 1998).


Baseline: The amount and type of agricultural inputs used by women and men in period 0 (baseline).

GSI data required:

  • The amount and type of agricultural inputs used by women.
  • The amount and type of agricultural inputs used by men.

GSI indicator:

  • The ratio between the amount and type of agricultural inputs that women versus men use, compared to the baseline.


    Does ownership of a natural resource affect the willingness to manage it sustainably? There are those who argue that insecure property rights lead to less willingness to make long-term improvements to land, hence accelerating natural resource degradation (UNCCD, 1999). However, women also sustainably manage land that they do not own, either because their tenure is threatened or as a symbolic gesture to their husbands and community that they are "good" wives and farmers (Verma, 2001).

    As noted by Tschirley (1996) it is not easy to distinguish between cause (pressure) and effects (responses). For example, does increasing population put pressure on marginal environments [competition], or mean that there are more people to manage natural resources sustainably, as was noted in Nepal?12 The land reclamation in Egypt provided land to unemployed graduates, who had the skills required to carry out the highly modernized agriculture required in the reclaimed lands. It was believed that in this way pressures would be reduced on the urban centers, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria. Thus, the influx of population exerted positive pressure in the process of reclaiming new lands. This may be seen as a response.

    In most parts of the world, gender and socio-economic status are key determinants for access to and control over land. In Nepal, land is distributed through the male branch, and only unmarried women of 35 years and over are allowed to inherit from their parents a share of land equal to their brothers'. In Egypt, there are no legal obstacles under Islamic law preventing women from buying, renting or inheriting land13, but land is considered to belong to those who "give life to it" (Bonnet, 2000). Women represent one tenth of all landholders in Egypt. Still, it is customary for women to give up their inheritance rights to male members of their family in exchange for protection and support for future need14.

    It is often noted that when women have access to land, they often depend on the most fragile areas and resources. When competition for land increases, often their access is at risk15. According to FAO (2002), land degradation (deforestation and desertification) impacts harder on women since they have to spend more time in finding fuelwood, fodder and water. Similarly, the quality of people's lives also depends on the quality of their land.


    Baseline: The quality and quantity of land accessed by women versus men in period 0 (baseline).

    GSI data required:

    • The quality and quantity of land accessed by women.
    • The quality and quantity of land accessed by men.

    GSI Indicators:

    • The ratio in volume of land as accessed by women versus men, compared to the baseline.
    • The ratio of quality land as accessed by women versus men, compared to the baseline.


    The more time that is invested into sustainable management of a natural resource, the more positive the impact will be on the natural resource. However, the net pressure on natural resources may be negative if this crowds out the management of another natural resource. Women often work longer hours than men, and their work as managers of natural resources often is "invisible", "informal" and "not measured". Moreover, women's work is often constrained by having to combine childcare with being a natural resource manager. In this context, for example, fetching water and fuelwood may create time poverty that particularly limits women's ability to effectively employ other productive resources16. In fact, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2002, in 1978 in Nepal and in 2000 in India, women's work burden was 17 percent higher than men's.

    Box 6. Time-spent on water collection: an example from India

    A participatory research team working with 10 villages in the Nagpur district in India started a research programme in 1995 on safe drinking water. The researcher documents that women in these villages worried tremendously about the quantity of available water, paying very little attention to its quality. All villages had serious water problems, so women and girls walked 35-40 times each day to fetch water. They generally woke up at 4:30 am and collected water until 6:30 or 7 a.m., repeating the same routine in the evening. Since personal hygiene was a low priority, little of this water was used for this purpose.

    Source: Shyamsundar, 2002

    New technologies may be introduced that allow for a more effective, less time-consuming management. However, the introduction of new technologies often affects the division of labour between women and men. It has been noted that when a female sphere of responsibility is mechanized, it will be included in men's responsibilities (Radoeva, 2000). This was observed in Nepal where men now apply herbicides and women's dominant role in weeding has been phased out. When irrigation was introduced in southern Vietnam, women's on-farm workload increased because they began participating in duties that were traditionally men's, such as land preparation. The way in which new technologies will influence the sustainable management of resources will depend on the alternative use of the liberated time.


    Baseline: The number of working hours put into the management of a given natural resource by women and men in period 0 (baseline).

    GSI data required:

    • The number of working hours women put into the management of a given natural resource.
    • The number of working hours men put into the management of a given natural resource.

    GSI indicators:

    • The ratio between the number of working hours women versus men put into the management of a given natural resource, compared to the baseline.

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