CITES Parties decide to work on an Action Plan on Gender
Panama’s proposal to draft an Action Plan on Gender was accepted by Committee I of the ongoing 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) in so far as a working group was established. The proposed CITES Gender Action Plan envisages a recognition of gender issues in international wildlife trade, which are commonly overlooked. As it was presented, however, many Parties disagreed on its substance and wording.
Panama’s proposal contains several decisions directed to the Parties and the Standing Committees as well as a draft resolution on Gender and Wildlife Trade. The overall goal of the Action Plan is to be able to draft appropriate, gender-based responses to wildlife trade issues that affect illegal wildlife trade and enforcement issues. For instance, the document shows that, even though both legal and illegal wildlife trade are shaped by men and women, oftentimes men are bullied into poaching due to expectations concerning masculinity. At the same time, law enforcement units are dominated by men and putting them at very high risk, causing issues for their respective local communities.
The document refers to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), which defines gender as “the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men.” The attributes of gender, however “are are context/ time-specific and changeable.” Further, “[e]quality between women and men (gender equality) refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys” while “[g]ender Mainstreaming is a strategy, an approach, a means to achieve the goal of gender equality.”
It is especially the definitions of gender contained in the document and the fact that it is considered time- and context-specific and changeable, which cause problems in the Committee. Especially Indonesia, China and Bangladesh argue that ‘gender’ merely concerns men and women and is not changeable. As a result, they wished for a removal of the definitions from the document. On the other side stand the United States, Australia, the UK and Colombia who argue that the document should reflect gender diversity, indicating that the concept goes beyond female and male. Since no consensus could be found, a working group was established, comprising the discussants, along with Mexico, Zambia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Sustria, Czech Republic, Botswana, Germany, along with WWF and TRAFFIC.
The initiative to include gender in a CITES context is laudable, following furthermore Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) on achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls as well as the Draft Outline of a Post-2020 Gender Plan of Action by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). However, all of the referred-to documents and bodies appear fail to apply a broader interpretation of the term and concept ‘gender’. This is to say that the binary interpretation of ‘gender’ to comprise female and male is no longer necessarily timely, as underlined by some of the discussants.
Also research has time and again underlined the diversity of gender. As, for example, Linda L. Lindsey shows in Gender – Sociological Perspectives (Lindsey, 2020), ‘gender’ goes far beyond the distinction between women and men, but also includes homosexual, bisexual, transsexual and queer dimensions. If the request by Indonesia, China and Bangladesh is followed, the LGBTQ-level of gender will not be considered in the proposed CITES Action Plan on Gender, essentially making it outdated from a social sciences perspectives before it comes in to being. An even more negative view would allow for the conclusion that problems and issues related to the LGBTQ community are then ignored in conservation contexts, essentially underlining “sexism and heterosexism that overlook other forms of discrimination (e.g., racism, ableism), resisting an intersectional approach that would question white, able-bodied, and other forms of privilege” (García Johnson & Otto, 2019). This is a situation, which CITES should avoid at all costs.
The outcomes of the work of the working group will be discussed later on during the meeting. Irrespective of the outcome, Panama’s proposal has initiated an important and overdue discussion on gender issues in international wildlife trade.
García Johnson, CP & K Otto. (2019). Better Together: A Model for Women and LGBTQ Equality in the Workplace. Frontiers in Psychology 20. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00272
Lindsey, L. L. (2020). Gender – Sociological Perspectives. New York: Routledge.