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Forests, gender and climate change

Copyright under Creative Commons by Sophie Furnival/CIFOR

Because of their carbon storage capacities, forests are a major issue in climate change politics. They are complex ecosystems that provide subsistence and income for many people throughout the world: more than 60 million indigenous people are almost wholly dependent on forests; 350 million people depend on forests to a high degree; and more than 1.6 billion people depend on forest products to some degree for survival necessities e.g. for fuel, medicinal plants and food. There is a close link between this reliance on forests and poverty: the majority of people living in extreme poverty depend at least in part on forests for their livelihoods and survival. Moreover, forests are hosts to a wealth of biodiversity (70% of the world's flora and fauna species live in tropical forests), and forests play an important role in providing water resources and protecting the land from flooding and erosion.


Gender dimensions

It is essential to recognize that, in addition to being crucial carbon stores, forests provide a home and livelihood for about 300 million people worldwide. When forests are considered from this social/community perspective, the gender aspects of forestry become evident. Women play a crucial role in agroforestry, especially when it comes to non-timber forest products (NTFPs) like food, and materials for crafts, building materials, medicine, and rituals. The collection of forests materials can also be an important income-generating activity. Women possess extensive local and/or indigenous knowledge about tree species and medicinal and edible plants. In many areas, women are the primary guardians of the forests and their rich biodiversity. Their role in forest conservation has yet to be acknowledged; women are virtually invisible in formal forestry, particularly in decision-making positions. Policy-making in the forest sector is male dominated and tends to neglect women’s needs and interests. Women are also not likely to derive any benefits from a compensation and carbon trading system involving forests: because they profit least from the destruction of forests, they would be the least likely to receive compensation.


Response

Women’s specialised knowledge of forestry, botany, biodiversity and water management makes them critical resources in combating deforestation. To realise this potential, women’s leadership must be supported by policies that recognise their expertise and support women in combating gender discrimination.
All forest protection mechanisms and measures should include affected communities in consultation, decision-making and implementation. Effective participation of women in the process must be ensured.
Any policies and measures related to tropical forests need to be governed by a set of principles regognizing the contribution of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities to forest protection, and their legal and traditional rights over forests. In particular, the historical role and positive contribution of women in the governance and nurturing of forests must be recognised and their full participation in decision making must be ensured.