Globally, conflicts are intrinsic to protected areas (PAs), given the multiple actors, varying interests, and institutional structures connected with PA management. Some experts argue that participatory approaches to natural resources management—especially when women’s views are incorporated—reduce conflicts, promote equity, and build local capacities.[1] Despite this argument, many policies and practices concerning natural resource conflict management fail to acknowledge the differing preferences rural men and women hold regarding natural resource use and the distinct impacts PA conflicts have on the two genders.[2]

For many developing countries, including Ghana, where forest and wildlife policies aim to devolve forests and wildlife management to the local people, social and cultural norms prevent or alienate women from participating in these management processes.[3] Focusing on Mole National Park (MNP) and the four surrounding communities, I conducted a research project to understand how gender, as a social construct, affects how men and women experience and are affected by PA conflicts. I argue that how men experience the impacts of PA conflicts varies from how women experience them. While men experience mainly economic impacts, women experience both economic and psychological impacts. I further argue that these psychological impacts, which other scholars have termed “nonmaterial” or “hidden” costs[4], can have serious consequences on PA management and peacebuilding efforts if park managers fail to address them in the affected communities and areas.

Feminist Political Ecology Theory

I draw on the feminist political ecology (FPE) theory to understand how gender, inequality, and rights shape or are shaped by power relations and resource management decisions (in the park-people context) and how they ultimately influence the effect of PA conflicts on women and men.[5]

FPE is rooted in the understanding that social categories of identity, such as gender, class, race, and ethnicity, affect the access and control over natural resources for individuals and groups. FPE also explains how social categories of identity determine the effects of management decisions surrounding natural resource use and its complexities.[6] FPE aims to address several questions: What are the gendered dimensions of interactions between the environment and humans? Who is regarded as an actor in decision-making about the environment? And how are inequalities (re-)created in resource use and control?[7] Focusing on the everyday experiences of human-nature interactions, FPE examines how these reciprocal influences unfold in different settings and contexts.[8] This study therefore draws on FPE theory to assess the roles of gender, inequality, and rights in shaping how men and women (of the communities in the study) experience and are affected by park-people conflicts.

Contextualization of Mole National Park Conflicts: History, Stakeholders, and Contestations

Established in 1956, MNP is the first and largest national park in Ghana. It is located in the Guinea savanna vegetation zone and covers an area of 4,577 square kilometers. The park is famous for its tourist value and is home to a large variety of mammal, bird, and tree species.[9]

Conflicts between local communities and the MNP can be traced back to its turbulent establishment. Communities within the park were forcefully evicted. Meanwhile, hunting grounds, farmlands, and sacred sites were enveloped by what is now the national park.[10] As a result, many households and individuals lost their homes and livelihoods and grew resentful of the park’s authorities. Subsequently, wildlife laws prohibiting local people from hunting and accessing other resources in the park further aggravated the tenuous relationships among local communities, chiefs, park officials, and government officials.

As in many communities in northern Ghana, the patrilineal system is the basis for the social structure of the study communities, where 89.8 percent of the households are headed by men, who make the decisions regarding production processes.[11] The socioeconomic structure of the study context raises some salient concerns about the roles culture and power play in decision-making regarding natural resources. Specifically, sociocultural norms determine women’s access to productive resources, participation in decision-making, and expected role as caregivers. Altogether, the result is the differing experiences of and impacts on men and women involved in PA conflicts.

Gendered Experiences and Impacts of Protected Area Conflicts on Communities around Mole National Park

Findings from the study centered around five themes: livelihood loss, involuntary relocation from home, physical and psychological violence and abuse, cultural and social norms, and antagonistic conflict management and peacebuilding practices.

Livelihood Loss: The Core Cause of Protected Area Conflicts

At the crux of most PA conflicts in the Mole area is the loss of livelihood. During focus group discussions, both men and women shared experiences describing how the source of conflicts between park managers and local communities centered around the loss of farmlands, restricted access to PA resources such as shea nuts, and destruction of food crops by animals, particularly elephants. In addition, men had either been arrested or lost their lives at the hands of park rangers for illegally entering the park to hunt.

Even though women and men outlined similar sources or similar experiences of conflict during focus group discussions, further investigations revealed how the effects differed based on being male or female. For most men, the socioeconomic effects of PA conflicts included the loss of income, loss of hunting rights inside the park, imprisonment, migration to seek better opportunities, and, sometimes, loss of life. For women, the effects included the loss of rights to gather shea nuts, medicinal plants, and other non-timber forest products, loss of income, being widowed, taking on an increased workload to support the household in the absence of the husband, and emotional stress from fear of losing the husband. While some men could be affected psychologically, those that participated in focus group discussions did not explicitly indicate that they suffered from any stress resulting from psychological trauma.

Involuntary Relocation from Home

Another finding that emerged from the data was the issue of involuntary relocation from home. This relocation was explained in two ways—the removal of some communities during the establishment of the park and, more recently, migration to southern Ghana in search of jobs. Both men and women lost their original homes and relocated to other parts of the country. Park officials acknowledged this hardship but observed it was for the “national good.”[12] Reportedly, many men have moved south to look for new opportunities for work, leaving behind wives, children, and older adults. The wives of husbands who migrated have had to play dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners. One woman whose husband migrated to Kumasi said: “I now have to bear the burden of caring for the family, including his aged parents, and it’s not an easy task being the head of family, mother, and father to everyone—you have to work twice as much.”[13]

Violence and Abuse: Physical and Psychological

Many men who were caught hunting illegally inside the park reported they and their friends had experienced physical violence from park rangers. Some men had been beaten and shot at, resulting in the deaths of some hunters. One man recounted his experience: “When the park rangers catch you inside the park, you would wish that they killed you, as the beatings you will receive before they hand you over to the police is severe.”[14]

Though women were not subjected to physical violence, they suffered psychological distress from the fear of losing their husbands or sons to gunshots, imprisonment, or migration. “As a woman, you cannot even sleep when your husband leaves at night to go and hunt. You are lucky if he returns, otherwise he could be killed or imprisoned.”[15]

Cultural and Social Norms

It should also be noted that cultural norms, which alienate women from accessing land and making decisions relating to natural resources, played a key role in reinforcing inequalities and exacerbating the impact of PA conflicts on women. As one woman described it: “Land issues are men’s issues—we women have little say in matters of land.” Additionally, social roles associated with women placed a further economic burden on those in the study areas, which affected their physical health and psychological well-being. “As women and mothers, it is our duty to care for the family, no matter what. You can’t just sit and watch your children die of hunger. If it means walking longer distances to collect shea fruits, doing menial work elsewhere to put food on the table, we will do it—even if it means breaking our backs.”[16]

Antagonistic Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Practices

Interviews with park officials revealed four major conflict management strategies and peacebuilding practices employed over the years to resolve and manage conflicts between surrounding communities and park management:

  • Provision of economic incentives and ecotourism activities through the community resource management areas—a form of collaborative natural resources management.
  • Negotiation through the Protected Area Management Advisory Board, a platform for resolving PA conflicts and grievances.
  • Use of police or armed patrol teams to arrest violators of park laws.
  • Court action for those arrested for violating park laws.

While some of the conflict management strategies have involved offering economic incentives to communities around MNP, this approach has mainly favoured women who are engaged in shea butter processing. Such strategies have ignored the deep-rooted conflicts associated with the relocation of entire villages, which has resulted in psychological costs to women and mostly antagonistic actions toward men who identified as hunters.


This research demonstrates the complex connections between PA conflicts, their impacts on men and women, and their effects on sustainable conflict management. It contributes to the literature on natural resource conflicts, gender and peace, and development in Africa in various ways. Particularly, this research broadens our knowledge of how cultural and social norms play a key role in reinforcing inequalities and exacerbating the effects of PA conflicts on women.

This insight brings into focus the need for stakeholders to adopt gender-sensitive approaches in strategies for natural resource management and conflict management. Such an approach promotes more equitable and inclusive decision-making that protects women’s rights and well-being, as well as strengthens conservation and peacebuilding efforts. This work also contributes to the growing body of literature on hidden or nonmaterial impacts of conservation and PA conflicts, which is nascent compared to the large portion of literature focused on economic impacts. In contrast, this research presents empirical findings from an African case study to highlight how psychological impacts, particularly when left unaddressed, can result in the escalation of PA conflicts, and adversely affect PA management and peacebuilding efforts.


[1] Craig Leisher et al., “Does the Gender Composition of Forest and Fishery Management Groups Affect Resource Governance and Conservation Outcomes? A Systematic Map,” Environmental Evidence 5, no. 1 (2016): 1–10,

[2] Robyn James et al., “Conservation and Natural Resource Management: Where Are All the Women?” Oryx 55, no. 6 (2021): 860–67,

[3] S. Bandiaky-Badji, “Gender Equity in Senegal’s Forest Governance History: Why Policy and Representation Matter,” International Forestry Review 13, no. 2 (2011): 177–94,

[4] Thondhlana, Gladman, et al. “Non-material costs of wildlife conservation to local people and their implications for conservation interventions.” Biological Conservation 246 (2020): 108578,; Monica V. Ogra, “Human-Wildlife Conflict and Gender in Protected Area Borderlands: A Case Study of Costs, Perceptions, and Vulnerabilities from Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal), India,” Geoforum 39, no. 3 (2008):1408–22,

[5] Dianne Rocheleau, Barbara Thomas-Slayter, and Esther Wangari, eds., Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experience (London: Routledge, 2013); Rebecca Elmhirst, “Introducing New Feminist Political Ecologies,” Geoforum 42, no. 2 (2011):129–32,; Juanita Sundberg, “Feminist Political Ecology,” in International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology (2016): 1–12,

[6] Elmhirst, “Introducing New Feminist Political Ecologies,” 129; Sundberg, “Feminist Political Ecology,” 1; Ogra, “Human-Wildlife Conflict and Gender in Protected Area Borderlands: A Case Study of Costs, Perceptions, and Vulnerabilities from Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal), India,”, 1409.

[7] Elmhirst, “Introducing New Feminist Political Ecologies,” 129; Sundberg, “Feminist Political Ecology, 1.

[8] Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, and Wangari, Feminist Political Ecology, 4; Elmhirst, “Introducing New Feminist Political Ecologies,” 130.

[9] Forestry Commission of Ghana, Mole National Management Plan, 2011-2016 (Accra: Wildlife Division of Forestry Commission, November 2011), 1-208 [Unpublished material].

[10] Forestry Commission of Ghana, Mole National Management Plan, 2011-2016, 21.

[11] Philomena Nyarko et al., “Navrongo DSS, Ghana,” in Population and Health in Developing Countries, vol. 1, Population, Health, and Survival at INDEPTH Sites (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2002), 247–56,,%20Methods%20&%20Life%20Tables.pdf.

[12] Interview with Park official, MNP, October 2022.

[13] Female focus group participant, Kananto, October 2022.

[14] Male focus group participant, Larabanga, October 2022.

[15] Female focus group participant, Larabanga, October 2022.

[16] Female participant in mixed-sex focus group, Murugu, October 2022.