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Community-Led Initiatives and SDG5: Gender Equality

Both formal and anecdotal evidence show, in general, partial success on the part of CLIs in working towards gender equality. Widespread awareness and acknowledgement of the importance of gender issues makes visible both successes and failures. In addition, the conceptual understandings and practical activities of many CLIs go beyond issues of representation to reveal, examine and address deeper underlying structural and cultural factors, drawing on feminist and eco-feminist social critiques and developing and enacting new understandings of gender and its social and environmental consequences.[1]

The TESS project collected data on gender representation in 63 CLIs in several European countries, in the form of current gender ratios, both among strategic decision-makers and across the initiative as a whole, five years previously, and among the founding group. Results showed near-parity of gender among present-day participants in most all cases, with a small-number of male-dominated initiatives and virtually none female-dominated. Gender imbalance (in the form of both male and female domination) was more prevalent both five years before the study and among founding groups, suggesting improved gender balance over time. While the majority of initiatives showed gender balance among strategic decision-makers, gender imbalances were more widely reported at this level than that of the initiative as a whole, with male predominance more common than female predominace.[2]

A survey of 29 ecovillages in all continents found that forty per cent or more of senior leadership positions were occupied by women in over ninety per cent of documented cases.[3] An online survey of the international permaculture movement also showed high levels of female representation (53% of respondents). However, participation was strongly differentiated according to role, with women's representation far less in high-profile roles as professionals and practitioners, suggesting that wider structural inequalities relating to gender persist within the permaculture movement.[4]

Similar ambiguities have been reported by participants in CLIs at the level of attitudes, behavioural patterns and underlying perspectives on gender and gender relationships.[5][6][7] A general conclusion is that, while attention to gender issues, and progress upon them, is generally higher in CLIs than in the general population, oppressive and discriminatory patterns relating to sex, gender and sexuality nonetheless persist. In line with current scientific understandings about the depth and pervasiveness of these cultural norms,[8] this demonstrates the importance of CLIs as niches where alternative perspectives can be explored and put into practice.[9][10][11][12]

CLIs thus aspire to go beyond mere numerical equality towards deeper shifts away from structural and cultural patriarchy and towards genuinely gender-equitable and gender-inclusive societies.[13] Increasing evidence suggests that women's distinctive perspectives on nature, environment and society, and life experiences as women involved in sustainable agriculture and other land-based and transformative work, can extend the scope of thought and action in ways that inform sustainability thinking more widely,[14][15] thus creating and strengthening synergies between gender equality and achievement of the other SDGs. As one example, in a worldwide survey of community-led projects that link agriculture with biodiversity conservation, thirty per cent of the reported solutions specifically target women. In many cases, explicit attention is given to intersections between gender dynamics, household incomes, nutrition and conservation action.[16]


  1. Starhawk, 2016. Social Permaculture-What Is It? Communities 10–13.
  2. Celata, F., Hendrickson, C., 2016. Case study integration report (TESS Project Deliverable No. 4.1). Pp. 66=67.
  3. Kovasna, A., Mattos, T., 2017. GEN Ecovillage Impact Assessment Pilot Study. Initial Results of 29 Showcase Ecovillages. Global Ecovillage Network.
  4. Ferguson, R.S., Lovell, S.T., 2015. Grassroots engagement with transition to sustainability: diversity and modes of participation in the international permaculture movement. Ecology and Society 20.
  5. Dinnie, E., Browne, K., 2011. Creating a Sexual Self in Heteronormative Space: Integrations and Imperatives Amongst Spiritual Seekers at the Findhorn Community. Sociological Research Online 16, 1–10.
  6. Olson-Ramanujan, K., 2013. Women in Permaculture. Permaculture Activist, August 2013.
  7. Makita, S., 2014. Sexism at Dancing Rabbit. Communities 16–19.
  8. Fine, C., 2010. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  9. Chase, N.E., 2014. Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. Communities 51–75.
  10. Hagamen, L., 2016. Ecosexuality: Embracing a Force of Nature. Communities 27–29.
  11. Renwick, V., 2014. Gender-Bending on the Commune. Communities 24–25.
  12. Byrnes, L., 2014. My Gender Journey, in Family and Community. Communities 42–44.
  13. Bauhardt, C., 2014. Solutions to the crisis? The Green New Deal, Degrowth, and the Solidarity Economy: Alternatives to the capitalist growth economy from an ecofeminist economics perspective. Ecological Economics 102, 60–68.
  14. Blum, S.D., 2011. Called by the Earth: Women in Sustainable Farming. Journal of Workplace Rights 16, 315–336.
  15. Harland, M., 2017. Permaculture: Tools for Making Women’s Lives More Abundant. Feminist Theology 25, 240–247.
  16. Gwinner, V. & Neureuther, A., 2018. Farming for Biodiversity: Proven Solutions Meet Global Policy. Analysis report based on a worldwide Solution Search. Berlin, Germany: Rare.