Traditional gender roles of men and women in natural resource conservation among the vhavenda people in Zimbabwe: implications for sustainable development
Natural resource conservation is absolutely key to the concept of sustainable development, yet environmental pressures continue to increase including soil degradation, water availability, and nutrient cycling. Within natural resource conservation, women play an essential, yet differentiated to men, role, meaning that analysis of gender interactions in relation to environmental management is therefore imperative for sustainable development. To this end, this journal paper explores the traditional gender roles of men and women in the conservation of natural resources among the vhavenda people in Zimbabwe, drawing lessons regarding participation, particularly of women, that can inform wider sustainable development efforts.
African feminism and post- colonial theory were used as theoretical frameworks to analyse the practices of the vhavenda. while a Harvard analytic framework and the social relation approach to gender analysis were used as tools to map the gender roles in their conservation activities. The research also used a phenomenological research approach as part of the purely qualitative study, to ensure that understanding emerged directly from the experiences of the men and women themselves. In-depth, unstructured interviews were conducted with respondents aged seventy and above, with five females and three males interviewed in the Beit-Bridge district in south west Zimbabwe. These were chosen for their extensive knowledge of traditional methods.
The research revealed that the type of resources that were of concern to the vhavenda people included soil, water, and certain plant species that were important sources of firewood, timber, and food. Certain trees are conserved for sacred and cultural reasons, with rules as to who can cut down trees, and how. Conservation of water was not gendered, with both men and women participating in actions such as fencing off water-sources from animals. Soil degradation prevention takes precedence over correction, with men cutting terraces to prevent soil erosion, and women planting grasses. Animal species conservation depended on availability, importance, and use, while the study also revealed that although women and men had different uses and benefits from natural resource, there was an ethic of cooperation, dialogue, and collaboration among men and women when it comes to resource conservation.
The study recommends that natural resource conservation in the context of sustainable development, that is, using modern technologies and methods, needs to embrace some of the practices of the vhavenda, among which are complementarity, cooperation, inclusiveness, dialogue, and negotiation between men and women. In promoting equal participation between genders, this approach will help to overcome some of the barriers of participation seen elsewhere, especially unequal gender relations that cause gendered subordination.