Women, indigenous groups and One Health: from social protection to harnessing powerful agents of change

The last two years have pushed to the forefront the unarguable fact that the health of humans, animals and the environment are inter-connected in a multitude of ways. These connections are constantly evolving and critically important to the way we live our lives.

What is less discussed and understood, is how critical the gender component of the human-animal-environment interface is. Engaging with women is fundamental to strengthening the inter-connection pathways for societal and planetary good, whilst the use of a ‘One Health’ approach can also better enable the social protection of women and vulnerable groups.

Uzbekistan: Street vendors waiting for customersIn many low- and middle-income countries, women, indigenous and other vulnerable groups bear a disproportionate health, poverty and climatic burden. These groups are commonly marginalised from support services and face more barriers in accessing quality health care compared with the general population.1 They are also more likely to experience social exclusion through lower levels of education and unemployment or underemployment. Apparent inequalities, such as access to and control over resources, education and information, equal rights and participation in decision-making processes, may also hamper the capacity of women and vulnerable groups to be effective actors against climate change.

At the same time, the power of these groups is being enormously suppressed. Women, for example, have pivotal roles in daily activities pertaining to the promotion of food and water security, boosting family economics, conserving biodiversity and natural resources, and supporting the overall health and wellbeing of their communities.2 Women represent half of the agricultural workforce in low income countries3 , and are often the key decision makers and market influencers when it comes to food production, consumption, water sourcing and child rearing.4,5,6 Overall, research has indicated that healthy communities with a vibrant, participatory civil society depend on the empowerment of women to make agriculture more sustainable and to promote the health of humans, animals and the ecosystem.7

Plenty of encouraging examples exist. In Amazonia, for example, a region where 50% of protected areas are under indigenous control, participatory monitoring and management programs with the local community - which have prioritised the representation of women - have become an important strategy for enhancing sustainable resource use. The Amazonian people seek to maintain traditional strategies to enable their economic and social protection whilst at the same time prioritising conserving biodiversity, despite the pressures of population density, changes in hunting technology and the cumulative effects of habitat degradation.8 These approaches can vitally inform One Health strategies at the interface between people, animals and wild environments, such as programs to reduce disease emergence or reduce the impact of agriculture on biodiversity.

In the Philippines, programs have demonstrated that if a family is healthy, less time is spent on pursuing medicines and treatment and more time is spent on income generation, education, and other quality of life improvements. This leads to more time available to pursue non-subsistence income generating activities, which can then contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. Engaging women in their role as key custodians of family health is vital to achieving these cross-sectoral One Health outcomes. In turn, One Health has a feedback loop into women’s empowerment: with a healthy family, women are also able to increase their participation in activities outside the home, such as natural resource management, which can galvanise societal action and potentially increase their decision-making authority in other spheres. 9,10

There is real need to grow and accumulate the evidence base around One Health projects and initiatives, grounded in their specific contexts. A heightened focus on providing access to quality healthcare, education and support services for all population members, which cater to specific and varying needs, is needed. As we set out on the pathway to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to harness the multitude of varying agents of change from across society, recognising the still untapped value women and indigenous groups in particular can bring.

Article by Clare Strachan, Max Barot, Angus Campbell

    [1] Garnier, J., Savic, S., Boriani, E., Bagnol, B., Hasler, B., & Kock, R. (2020). Helping to heal nature and ourselves through human-rights-based and gender-responsive One Health. One Health Outlook, 2(1), 22.

    [2] https://onehealthoutlook.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42522-020-00029-0

    [3] Food and Agriculture Organization. 2011. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11: Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap for Development. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Available: http://www.fao.org/docrep/0 13/i2050e/i2050e.pdf

    [4] Acosta, M., et al. 2019. What does it mean to make a ‘joint’ decision? Unpacking intra-household decision making in agriculture: implications for policy and practice. The Journal of Development Studies. 56 (6): pp 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2019.1650169

    [5] Beuchelt, TD., Badstue, L. 2013. Gender, nutrition- and climate-smart food production: opportunities and trade-offs. Food Security. 5 (5):pp 709–721. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-013-0290-8

    [6] Jost, C., et al. 2019. Understanding gender dimensions of agriculture and climate change in smallholder farming communities. Climate and Development. 8 (2): pp 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2015.1050978

    [7] Herrmann J. A., Johnson-Walker Y. J. Beyond One Health (2018). Willey Blackwell, USA.

    [8] Herrmann J. A., Johnson-Walker Y. J. Beyond One Health (2018). Willey Blackwell, USA.

    [9] Duflo 2012

    [10] Healthy Families, Healthy Forests: Improving Human Health and Biodiversity Conservation (2004). USAID/Conservation International.

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Clare Strachan,