Adding ‘gender’ not always a recipe for REDD+ success

Photo by Tim Cronin/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (24 November, 2011)_The inclusion of women in the design of climate adaption and mitigation strategies, such as REDD+, will have little impact on the sustainable management of forests unless they are given power to influence policy decisions, says a new study in the gender themed edition of the International Forestry Review.

The study highlights the need for a better understanding of how actors, power structures, and hierarchies influence decision making in the forestry sector. With such knowledge, policy makers, practitioners and women themselves can better design actions aimed at influencing policy decisions.

“When we talk about ‘gender’, there is often a tendency to take the ‘add women and stir’ approach, however, strategies and approaches that enable women to actually participate in decisions and influence policy will be much more successful”, said Carolyn Peach Brown, author of Gender, climate change and REDD+ in the Congo Basin forests of Central Africa.

With the impacts of climate change expected to result in greater environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources, harnessing the knowledge and expertise of women in the management of forest resources, will be vital for climate adaption and mitigation schemes, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) schemes to work.

“Studies are increasingly showing that in certain settings, when women are included in forest management, they have had a positive effect on the sustainable management of forests,” said Esther Mwangi, CIFOR scientist and author of several articles in the gender special edition.

“It makes sense that if they are involved in decision making on REDD+, including in a share of the REDD+ benefits, they will feel incentivised to protect forest resources.”

Peach Brown examined how gender was considered in discussions and decision making on climate change in three countries straddled by the Congo Basin Forest: Cameroon, Central African Republic and the Democratic of Congo.

She found that although there were some references to the importance of considering gender differences in national adaption strategies in all three countries, government ministries and bodies with a mandate to address gender were rarely included in discussions.

Similarly, REDD+ documents and proposals that stated that gender sensitive approaches should be adopted, were rarely developed into concrete strategies that sought the participation of women at the local level.  Stakeholder consultations with communities, civil society movements and indigenous groups were limited.

“The mention of gender in policy documents does not automatically lead to policies that ensure the participation of women” according to Peach Brown.

“We should not assume that women’s ‘participation’ is the same as them having a voice or the ability to influence high-level decisions.”

Several NGOs and civil society movements across Africa are already fighting to ensure the effective participation of women in the design of new forestry policies.

The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, for example, has been holding workshops throughout Ghana, Cameroon and Uganda to guide the implementation of gender-sensitive REDD+ strategies. While the Central African Women’s Network for Sustainable Development, a network of NGOs consisting mainly of women, are lobbying to increase women’s participation and leadership in the management of natural resources.

Despite these efforts, there are still many challenges to overcome before the role of women and their contribution in the sustainable management of forests is recognised at the political level.

Women often face more constraints than men in that they have the extra responsibility of children and the lack of access to funds and networks, said Mwangi.

“Gender is just one part of a whole range of complex factors that underpin gender biases and limit the voice of in women in forest governance. Including women in decision making is a good start, however overcoming entrenched institutional barriers and minimizing costs that constrain their meaningful participation will be key.”

Addressing gender considerations in climate change adaptation and REDD+ efforts will be a topic of an afternoon discussion forum at Forest Day 5 in Durban, South Africa next week parallel to the 17th Conference of the Parties. Register here.  


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