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1 August 2014 Gender Awareness in European Alpine Protected-Area Management: Achievements, Shortcomings, and the Way Forward
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When the first protected areas in the European Alps were established as national parks, biocentric ideas of nature protection and research-oriented ecological approaches were at the heart of these efforts, and gender issues were not considered. With the paradigm shift toward integrative biodiversity politics, gender issues gained significance. In addition, the European Commission Women's Charta 2010, on building a gender perspective into all policies in accordance with the European theme “united in diversity,” required the integration of gender considerations into regional development, including protected areas. Based on a document analysis, an online survey, qualitative interviews, and focus group discussions, this article shows how widely gender mainstreaming is accepted and in which aspects of protected mountain areas gender perspectives are already considered important. Inspired by concepts from gender research and available options for regional (mountain) development, new items are recommended for a mountain agenda.


As early as 1998 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) announced a gender commitment, calling for: “the promotion of equity and equality as a crucial factor for environmental sustainability and an integral part of all conservation efforts. … Only with a gender perspective can a complete picture of human relationships and ecosystems be built up” (Cristina et al 1998: 1). In 2005 “the veritable role of gender equity in the management and conservation of protected areas” was emphasized, and further, “Gender equity is mentioned as an important emerging issue for the 21st century to achieve equitable benefit sharing and more effective governance systems” (Huber et al 2013: 29). This is documented in the proceedings of the World Park Congress (IUCN 2005). Since then the IUCN global senior gender adviser has been conducting a series of activities (eg, training delegates and developing manuals) to ensure that gender considerations are fully integrated in climate change and biodiversity policies (IUCN 2013).

Since the 1992 Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, which had an enormous impact on a wide range of mountain initiatives at various levels (Messerli 2012), it has been widely acknowledged that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development” (United Nations 1992: Principle 20); therefore, their full participation is essential for achieving sustainable development in mountains. But 20 years later, a study still called for the inclusion of gender issues and analysis in important discussions, negotiations, policy-making, and institutions that work for equitable mountain development. As in other contexts, it stressed the importance of acknowledging women as “capable, knowledgeable agents who adapt to climate change and ensure sustainable livelihoods and environments” (Khadka and Verma 2012: 48; see also Verma 2014, in this issue).

Gender equity measures were put on the agenda of the European Union (EU) structural fund programs and projects in 1996, in parallel with the Cork Conference, which highlighted the importance of rural areas (which include mountain regions) and the need to promote their development. The first evaluation of the EU structural funds' impact in 2002 found only limited initial steps toward the integration of equal opportunity in regional management (Oedl-Wieser 2004: 12 f). The midterm review of the Austrian Programme for the Development of Rural Areas 2007–2013 revealed that many of the specific problems of rural mountain areas are still not recognized in their gender-specific dimensions (Oedl-Wieser 2011). The same is true for the Austrian national park strategy, published in 2010, which points out development paths for the national parks without any consideration of gender issues (BMLFUW 2010).

In spite of the EU legislative commitment and the fact that in many local civil society groups and initiatives women are very active members (Wiesinger 2008), equal opportunities for men and women have been only poorly realized in the various development programs. It remains necessary to call for the integration of gender issues into sustainable regional development as envisaged in the European Commission Women's Charta 2010 (European Commission 2010) on building a gender perspective into all policies in accordance with the European theme “united in diversity.” This means that measures that do justice to the different interests of men and women and that support equal opportunity also need to be integrated into the concepts of protected Alpine areas.

The many facets of gender-specific issues in protected mountain areas make it necessary to look into a number of different research areas. Gender themes in mountain research have so far been mainly taken up in the context of the so-called developing countries. In European gender research, studies exist on sustainability and on regional development, but only occasionally with a reference to Alpine areas. This article looks at the debate about protected areas in terms of the extent to which gender can play a role and presents the results of a transdisciplinary investigation on this topic, followed by recommendations of ways to integrate gender-equitable development options in future mountain research and governance.


To help identify topics related to protected mountain areas that should be handled in a gender-specific way, between 2010 and 2013 we carried out an analysis of relevant publications; we also conducted qualitative interviews and an online survey with people involved in Alpine protected areas management and research using a semistandardized questionnaire and spot checks of protected area websites. Finally, we discussed the results with focus groups.

For the survey we approached 150 protected areas (national parks, biosphere reserves, nature parks, regional parks, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] World Natural Heritages sites) by email. We had a fairly good rate of return (65%; mainly from Austria and Italy), but not all questionnaires were completed fully. Therefore, we decided to present our results in a qualitative rather than quantitative way.

The changing significance of gender

The establishment of the first protected areas in the European Alps (as national parks) in the 20th century was based on biocentric ideas of nature protection and research-oriented ecological approaches; gender issues played no role. Gender has gained importance with the paradigm shift toward integrative biodiversity politics, which includes the following:

  • A focus on species diversity as well as on regional development (Mose and Weixlbaumer 2003)

  • A shift from conservation to ongoing development of cultural landscapes in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner with adequate options for future generations (Lange 2005)

  • Protected areas “utilization and maintenance in accordance with the conservation aims and a matching regional economy” (Hammer et al 2012: 7)

This new understanding reflects the awareness that national parks not only preserve untouched natural areas but also transform cultural landscapes into new types of use. Protected areas are to become models of sustainable regional development with an increasing focus on actors, participation, and the general public.

The year 1995 marked a milestone in putting humans and their needs into the center of protected area development, when UNESCO's Seville Strategy and Seville Guidelines provided a solid base for such a rethinking. At the political, research, and management levels, however, the concept is only slowly gaining ground. As late as 2007, Ingo Mose underlined that “the present picture of protected areas (still) appears rather diffuse, if not confusing” (Mose 2007: XVI).

The paradigm shift to integrative biodiversity politics requires renegotiating the symbolic meaning and the social responsibility of protected areas, as Kupper (2008) pointed out for national parks. When we negotiate how we want to live under changing global conditions, gender aspects should also play a role as studies on life quality have revealed (for the Alpine region, eg, Keller 2009). Gender issues, however, are still not being taken up.

Looking at the aforementioned and other relevant publications on protected areas and at eco.mont, the