Women’s empowerment and biodiversity conservation
Women for Bees is a state-of-the-art female beekeeping entrepreneurship programme launched by UNESCO and Guerlain. Implemented in UNESCO designated biosphere reserves around the world, the programme has actor, film maker and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie for a Godmother, helping promote its twin objectives of women’s empowerment and biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
Focusing on local and native bees, their welfare and maintenance, as well as education on bees, the programme aims to enable women’s empowerment through an expertise-driven sustainable professional activity. It also aims to contribute to raising awareness of the importance of all bee species as pollinators, bearing in mind that animals play a major part in the pollination of 90% of the planet’s wild flowers.
"When women gain skills and knowledge their instinct is to help raise others. I’m excited to meet the women taking part in this programme from all over the world. I look forward to getting to know them and learning about their culture and environment and the role bees play in that. I hope the training will strengthen their independence, their livelihoods and their communities."
Angelina Jolie, godmother of the Women for Bees programme
Beekeeping can generate income in rural areas for disadvantaged population who don’t own crops or farms. It can also generate income and improve food security in areas where agricultural production is minimal.
This “Women for Bees” five-year programme is part of a UNESCO and LVMH partnership which supports UNESCO’s scientific intergovernmental Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme.
Training 50 women and building 2,500 hives over 5 years
Over five years, 50 participants from 25 biosphere reserves of of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, selected in concertation with UNESCO, Guerlain and the countries’ MAB committees, will share knowledge among this new network of beekeepers and learn the theoretical and practical bases of sustainable beekeeping, including the running of a professional apiary relying on local ecotypes and species of bees. Participants will have the possibility to become fully professional beekeeper-entrepreneurs and will be members of an international network of women beekeepers.
Prior to the start of the project, a feasibility study is arranged in each biosphere reserve involved based on a field assessment by local scientists. This study describes socio-economic, demographic and land-use features, institutional arrangements, indigenous and local beekeeping and honey collection practices, as well as potential ecological and socio-economic potential consequences of the project – either benefits of challenges. The study is particularly centered on women living inside or close to the biosphere reserve.
Considering these potential impacts, the project promotes beekeeping based on traditional and local knowledge and practices, and focuses on local species and ecotypes of bees, which contributes to maintaining and restoring native bee populations and pollinator and plant diversity.
The programme is working inside biosphere reserves, which comprise strictly protected areas as well as areas allowing sustainable development. In some biosphere reserves, beekeeping and bee domestication activities have long been taking place, as highlighted by the recent inscription of some practices to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The knowledge exchange and training is therefore primarily aimed at women already familiar with beekeeping and even sometimes already managing their own hives.
A great deal of attention is given to local practices, which prevents the programme from importing bee colonies or queens from outside to biosphere reserves (for instance, colonies of Western honeybees), or from promoting the development of very large apiaries, which may present a risk of outcompeting other native species of bees and wild pollinators as well as increasing the risk of spreading diseases.
The first 30-day training took place in June-July 2021 in France. During the first two years, more than 10 countries have already been set to participate in the programme, in concertation with UNESCO, Guerlain and the respective countries’ MAB committees.
- Central Balkan Biosphere Reserve (Bulgaria)
- Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve (Cambodia)
- Xishuangbanna Biosphere Reserve (China)
- Kafa Biosphere Reserve (Ethiopia)
- Fontainebleau et Gâtinais Biosphere Reserve (France)
- Iles et Mer d’Iroise Biosphere Reserve (France)
- Luberon-Lure Biosphere Reserve (France)
- Moselle Sud Biosphere Reserve (France)
- Great Altai Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (former Katunskiy Biosphere Reserve, Russia)
- Gishwati-Mukura Landscape Biosphere Reserve (Rwanda)
- Kozjansko & Obsotelje Biosphere Reserve (Slovenia)
By 2025, hives will have been built for native bee species and ecotypes within 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves. The 50 women to participate by that year, will have been trained and supported in establishing their own beekeeping operations while participating in a vital, socially beneficial project. The objective for women beekeepers is to create long-term revenue for them and their community. Being part of the worldwide network of beekeepers give women the opportunity to train other beekeepers after their participation in an exchange. Their transmission capacities are a crucial aspect of the programme to keep this knowledge and know-how dynamic.
Joining forces to empower women and support biodiversity
Angelina Jolie, long associated with Guerlain, will support the programme as a committed advocate of women’s rights, environmental conservation and humanitarian values. As
Godmother to the programme this year, Angelina Jolie will meet with the female beekeepers and track their progress.
Some of the first female beekeepers to take part in the “Women for Bees” trainings in Cambodia will be from the community served by her Foundation, founded 17 years ago, in the name of her son Maddox in the Samlot Region in Cambodia, to support the community and ecology of one of the areas of Cambodia most affected by the Cambodian civil war.
© Alexei Hay/Netflix
Man and the Biosphere programme
UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments. It combines the natural and social sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.
It's World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 727 sites in 131 countries.
"Because the role of women in biodiversity management and decision-making processes is not fully recognized, supporting and promoting their contribution as agents of change is essential and a global priority for UNESCO,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “The Women for Bees programme not only highlights our interdependency with other living species, it also encourages women to be designers of change, to create, educate and experiment with sustainable beekeeping in UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserves as a way of living on Earth in harmony with other species. Such is the spirit of our commitment to biodiversity, and the purpose of our global partnership with LVMH"
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
Since 1828, Guerlain has explored, innovated and perfected Fragrance, Skincare and Makeup. As daring creators of mythic creations, sharing timeless know-how handed down through the generations, it has made Nature and Art its inspiration and the Culture of Beauty its signature.
For over 14 years, in the Name of Beauty, Guerlain commits and acts for a more beautiful and sustainable world, with the Bee as a sentinel. This commitment is driven by a duty to act and pass on Nature’s wonders to future generations.
"I’m personally very proud of the “Women for Bees” Guerlain x UNESCO programme which manages to combine two core pillars of our Maison’s strong commitment, In the Name of Beauty: Bees conservation on one side and women empowerment on the other side, a pledge for one of the nature’s most precious wonder & a concrete positive social impact for women of the world. I believe each of us and each organization has a role to play to serve society and to fulfil a goal of a more beautiful and responsible world which is bigger than us."
Véronique Courtois, Guerlain Chief Executive Officer