Warlpiri experiences highlight challenges and opportunities for gender equity in Indigenous conservation management in arid Australia

Jocelyn Davies, Jane Walker, Yiheyis Taddele Maru

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Gender equity has been recognized as a guiding principle for conservation management globally. Yet little attention is paid to gender in the design and implementation of many conservation programs including those in the vibrant and expanding arena of Australian Indigenous conservation partnerships. We examined the impact of gender in management of the Northern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in arid central Australia through qualitative research (interviews and participant observation) with senior Warlpiri women and men and members of the all-male Wulaign community-based ranger group. Senior men and women had many similar perspectives including that customary knowledge, skills and activities were important in managing country and were occurring less through the IPA's management partnerships than they would like. Additional challenges reported by women included lack of vehicles to access country. Senior men specifically called for greater gender equity in allocation of resources including establishment of a women's ranger group. These perspectives indicate that gender equity is a Warlpiri cultural norm for management of country. Differences between Indigenous women's and men's management of country elsewhere in arid Australia suggest that opportunities also exist for gender equity to enhance conservation outcomes.Prevalent belief systems in Australia, and many other developed countries, are gender blind in that they fail to recognize differences between men's and women's needs, interests, knowledges, behaviors and power. Monitoring of Australian Indigenous conservation programs shows that an increasing proportion of Indigenous community-based rangers are women. However factors that might explain and support this trend cannot be readily identified because little or no attention to gender is apparent in program design and project planning. Gender-aware design of conservation management policies, programs and projects is important for challenging and changing gender blindness. Brokers and bridging institutions, or 'two-way' approaches, have been important in progressing cross-cultural equity in the implementation of Australian Indigenous conservation partnerships and can be expected to be also valuable for promoting gender equity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-52
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


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