What constitutes an environmental crime has long been subject to debate. However, human-induced environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are both pertinent. Local communities, largely indigenous groups, living around biodiverse areas comprising forests, mountains and marine ecosystems stand to be among the first affected.

The presence of illegal extractive activities, whether mining or logging, attracts men from outside these areas and effectively ‘masculinizes’ these territories. This disrupts regular life and threatens the safety of women, who often have to venture into forests to carry out domestic activities. The impact varies from community to community and is linked to gender roles and patriarchy, and sometimes includes physical violence.

As a part of the Resilience Fund’s broader work on women’s resilience to organized crime, this exploratory policy brief unpacks the ways in which women are struggling, adapting and responding to the impacts of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss caused by the illegal exploitation of forest regions and their surrounds, especially in rural and indigenous habitats. Women living within indigenous communities that have socio-cultural and economic ties to their natural environment are increasingly affected by the growing presence of illegal extractive economies. Forest resources mean different things to men and women, depending on their roles, priorities and interests in meeting household needs and social expectations.

In Indonesia, multinational companies are reportedly flouting laws on land clearing, which contributes to the outbreak of devastating forest fires. © Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Impact of biodiversity loss and environmental crime on women from rural and indigenous communities presents case studies from four forest ecosystems: the Arajuno forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sierra Tarahumara forests in Mexico, the Yabassi forests in Cameroon and the rainforests of North Sumatra in Indonesia. The findings show that while local indigenous communities rally to defend their territories against extractive operations and perceived environmental crimes, gender norms and patriarchy limit women’s voices and participation. However, women’s participation in resistance movements has gradually increased, especially against large-scale state concessions, and many have become leading environmental defenders in their communities.

Women’s motivation to voice their perspectives and challenge dominant narratives against indigenous communities through various acts of solidarity is firmly rooted in their desire to protect their livelihoods. Their resilience strategies are similar but context-specific and nuanced across the communities in the four forest ecosystems analyzed in this brief.

This material has been funded by UK Aid from the UK Government; however, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies.