Environmental NGOs are increasingly called upon to respect human rights when undertaking conservation programs. Evaluating a family planning program running alongside marine management measures in Madagascar, we find that family planning services provided by an environmental NGO can support women’s reproductive rights. Family planning services allow the option of smaller families, and give more time to work, increased income and better health. These benefits do not translate into increased support for, or participation in, marine management, however, and women who are able to work more are typically fishing more. We identify patriarchal norms as a key factor preventing the family planning programme from manifesting in improved resource stewardship, limiting opportunities for women to participate fully in resource management meetings and diversify their livelihood outside traditional tasks, including fishing. We propose that a successful human rights-based approach must be more comprehensive, targeting multiple rights and challenging existing institutions and power structures.