Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Wayne A. Freimund

Commitee Members

Laurie A. Yung, Jill M. Belsky, Kimber Haddix McKay, Jeffrey T. Bookwalter


CBNRM, conservation and development, economic participation, empowerment, gender, real woman


University of Montana


While advocates of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) contend that this decentralized approach to natural resource management has higher potential for the distribution of conservation and social benefits throughout civil society than conventional protected area approaches, there is limited empirical research to confirm it, especially regarding goals and claims of gender empowerment. To assess the impact of CBNRM on women's empowerment, this research selected Kwandu Conservancy in Namibia's Caprivi Region for in-depth study, an area with a relatively long and nationally-praised experience with CBNRM. The research was organized around the following two questions: how do women residing in Kwandu Conservancy define empowerment; and how has women's empowerment changed as a result of CBNRM in Kwandu Conservancy? Given the range of CBNRM activities in the Conservancy, the research focused on the effects of income-generation activities, in part, because they have been emphasized in CBNRM as a mechanism for women's empowerment. The iterative, ethnographic methodology included participant observation, document review, 20 interviews with key informants, and 49 in-depth interviews with women residents in Kwandu Conservancy varied by household wealth, age, ethnicity, education, marital status, Conservancy involvement, religion, and 5 other characteristics over the course of 6 months. Results show that women residents talk of a female ideal in their culture as having the following characteristics, and translated from their language as a "real woman": 1) able to meet material needs by earning cash income from locally-respected livelihood activities, 2) educated, 3) hard-working, 4) engaged in nurturing relationships with other people, and 5) performing culturally-defined roles as a wife and mother. Kwandu Conservancy provided enhanced income-generation opportunities through four activities: cash-paid employment of five to seven women annually; harvesting and sales of grass, reeds, and Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens); sale of locally-produced crafts; and collection of household dividends from the Conservancy. This represents limited economic opportunity for women in Kwandu Conservancy but mixed capacity to achieve their own, locally-defined female ideal of being a "real woman". While the Conservancy's economic activities provided women opportunity to gain new income, skills, public-speaking training, and awareness of gender norms and alternatives, opportunities were limited by existing and persisting male-bias, relatively low monetary returns from dividends and craft sales, and the low overall number of economic opportunities provided relative to the Conservancy's population size. The research concludes that efforts to improve women's empowerment need to be built on women's own definitions and goals in a particular context. They should also directly address barriers in gender-based roles and responsibilities, particularly regarding economic participation, household and community-level decision-making, and women's control over their bodies. Gender-based norms continue to place women in roles of subservience and dependency, increasing women's risks for experiencing gender-based violence. Challenging cultural norms will be problematic in Kwandu Conservancy and likely in other CBNRM efforts because creating opportunities for women requires cultural and economic change on the part of men, and is likely to create resistance from within the community as well as resentment against the conservation organization. It also begs the question as to who besides nature conservancies need to implement and reinforce empowerment programs.



© Copyright 2012 Kathryn Elizabeth Khumalo