3 things I’ve learned at the IUCN Global Gender Office: Barbara Clabots

By Barbara Clabots, IUCN Global Gender Office Intern

July 2015

3 things I’ve learned at the IUCN Global Gender Office

I’m currently a research intern for the Global Gender Office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. I dove into gender studies while performing my graduate research at the University of Washington on the management of marine protected areas in the Philippines. Now, I am working on developing a dataset for the Environment and Gender Index (EGI) to measure women’s empowerment in environmental sectors. Here are a few things I’ve learned as a result.


  1. Single discipline degrees don’t prepare you for the interdisciplinary world

As a holder of degrees in biology and marine affairs, my exposure to fields other than environmental science has been limited in an academic setting. Nearly everything I’ve learned about global politics and development has come from working abroad. My transition from ecology to gender studies has been an entirely new education.

One of my current projects is to quantify how well women are being represented at the highest level of national environmental policy by determining the percentage of heads of environmental sector ministries around the world who are women. Through the EGI research, I find myself digging to understand the history of a place and people. In order to understand women’s involvement in environmental policy you have to put it in context—you have to look at cultural traditions and customary law to understand why, for example, women control a significant amount of agricultural productivity yet have little to no power in owning the land or managing the water rights. Such research topics require a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach.


  1. Visualization is changing the world of research

Recently, during a discussion about GGO data, I realized that when it comes to spreadsheets and charts, I had never been asked by anyone in academia to make a figure more visually compelling in order to effectively communicate key aspects of the data to a wide audience. Environmental management is already complex, and decision makers often get inundated with information; they need creative researchers to share data clearly, accurately, and effectively. This is not a traditional skill set of scientists, but today’s science involves graphic design, marketing, and communications. At GGO, we have high hopes for using current data visualization techniques to make the next phase of the EGI interactive, informative, and interesting. For me, this means that after we create a data spreadsheet, the most pressing question is not “How do we share all this data?” but “How do we share this data effectively?”


  1. The IUCN library is the resource every environmental professional needs

Just when I went to look for peer-reviewed literature to improve data analysis for a GGO report, I realized that being a student provided the best access I may ever have to other scientists’ writings. There are still lots of ways that science stays behind closed doors, behind pay-walled journals, and does not benefit the world. That’s not the science community I want. If you are a student, I advise you to seize the opportunity to get as up to date on peer-reviewed literature in your field as possible and keep track of whose work you would like to follow.

Maybe you can’t access all peer-reviewed journals easily, but you could spend years reading all of the reports by IUCN scientists all around the world—100 books or major publications every year—from how ocean acidification will impact fisheries economics to addressing challenges to REDD+ climate change mitigation programs in Mexico, there are free reports in French, Spanish, and English for every modern environmental professional. This treasure trove of knowledge is really a record of environmental management around the world, from how Taiwan chose national protected area in the 1960’s, to the economic impacts of tourism that protected area managers assessed in the 1990’s. These documents reflect the real experience and expertise of the people managing our planet’s resources.

As I draft a report for the EGI evaluating how women are involved in those management decisions, I keep in mind that this report will become a part of the IUCN library—a free and permanent record for the world to learn how to integrate gender equity in environmental management. Far beyond a thought exercise, our data has the potential to impact countless decisions to come and hopefully impact women’s lives positively. If you’re in environmental science, management, or policy, and haven’t explored the library yet, definitely check it out!

In addition to IUCN’s library, the Global Gender Office has developed an ever-expanding Knowledge Center as a resource library for documents published by GGO and other organizations that study gender and the environment.

Barbara Clabots

Barbara Clabots

Integrating a gender lens into research isn’t a set of goggles you can put on and “get it” right away; it is nuanced, truly interdisciplinary, and intellectually challenging. The science I was trained in is firmly grounded in certain traditions, yet the world of science communication is rapidly changing in favor of user-oriented information sharing. I know that my skills must stay sharp in order to join this movement where language and money don’t create information barriers, and where research answers the questions that the world truly wants answered.