Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Jessica E. Leahy

Second Committee Member

Shawn Fraver

Third Committee Member

Mazie Hough

Additional Committee Members

Margaret Lowman

Abstract

This study identified rural women participants facing environmental degradation that threatens their livelihoods. A comparative research design compared women’s perceptions in a less degraded area (Kessa) and a more degraded area (Alem Ber) in Amhara, Ethiopia. We sought to understand the links between rural women’s gender roles and environmental degradation, which severely affects Ethiopia. Ethiopia has faced massive deforestation; almost all natural forests in northern Ethiopia have been converted to agricultural and grazing land, except for small fragments that have been protected as “church forests” adjacent to Ethiopian Orthodox Christian churches.

Mixed methods analysis of semi-structured interviews and surveys with rural women (n=80) demonstrated that rural women’s perceptions could provide important insight to better understand the relationship between rural women’s gender roles, rural women ecological knowledge and natural resources, including the effects of environmental degradation and related adaptations.

Rural women in Kessa and Alem Ber experienced many forms of environmental degradation in their lifetimes. Women expressed that they had experienced greater impacts from environmental degradation in the Alem Ber than in the less degraded area, Kessa. Rural women were particularly connected to their surrounding environment due to their unique economic and social role in which they are required to interact with environmental resources. Rural women were dependent on their environment and their roles were dictated by access to and availability of natural resources, and degradation impacts their lives in a number of ways. Rural women in both areas practiced different adaptations to environmental changes, and participation in conservation efforts differed between the areas as well. Rural women in the less degraded area, Kessa, had greater participation in natural resources conservation decision-making than women in Alem Ber, the more degraded area. Rural women used their ecological knowledge of environmental degradation and change adaptation, agricultural production improvement and sustainable use of natural resources. Excluding the gender dimension in environmental development misses not only an opportunity to improve women’s livelihoods but also the opportunity to significantly impact the success of environmental conservation efforts. Women play a key role in finding solutions to the problems of environmental degradation, and environmental conservation programs should be reviewed from a gender perspective and vice versa.

The introduction of improved seeds, fertilizers, and new tree species, strongly supported by government programs should be well researched. Adaptations to environmental changes including practicing agroforestry, shifting cultivation, having additional occupations, and adopting more flexible practices based on specific environmental situations might sustain different needs of subsistence farms, and improve environmental conservation efforts. Government and NGO programs working on rural women’s empowerment and environmental conservation efforts have an opportunity for greater impact by taking into account women’s roles and women’s ecological knowledge to ensure their participation in finding collaborative solutions to environmental degradation.

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