The Nature of Gender: Work, Gender and Environment

Nightingale, A. (2006). The nature of gender: Work, gender, and environment. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Environ. Plann. D, 24(2), 165-185.

This piece explores how and when gender, and other differences in people within a community, play a role in the management of environmental issues. The author, Andrea Nightingale, claims that the inequalities between men and women are not only a consequence of environmental issues but can be a cause of environmental change. She says that we need to re-conceptualize gender as a process and examine how gender roles change and how gender is a concept that is socially constructed, it is not biological. The key themes of the article are: the ways that knowledge, environmental rights and responsibilities and politics and grassroots activism are gendered. Nightingale also introduces the Essentialist and Materialist conceptions of gender. Essentialists think that women are closer to the environment than men and have a superior, inherent understanding of it. They compare the violence done to land to the violence done to women. This is similar to the thinking of Sherry Ortner who says that females are to nature as males are to culture. Materialist argue that one needs to consider how race, class and gender all work together. It is important to consider culturally specific gender roles and rural women’s knowledge of the environment. Nightingale also mentions feminist political ecology and how it demonstrates how gender structures access to knowledge, space and resources. In most cultures there is a hierarchy of gender and males are usually on top, which effects the way the environment is interacted with. For example, men in Gambia have the right to take land from women. Gender, along with race and class are very important to consider when thinking about environmental conservation because they change for each community and effect the way members of that community think about and interact with the environment. Before implementing conservation practices one should learn about and consider these social structures to ensure success.