Gender key to sustainable forests

04 December 2011 | News story

Durban, South Africa, 4 December 2011 (IUCN) – If the forestry sector ignores gender issues it will miss a huge opportunity to reduce poverty, conserve biodiversity and bolster sustainable development. This new information is the conclusion of an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) book, Gender and Forests, launched today – the first ever book of its kind.

Published in partnership with the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), Gender and Forests recognizes that, after decades of neglect and marginalization, gender issues are at last finding their way into many forest, land use and environmental policies. The new publication takes a fresh look at the issues facing gender and forests around the world, and considers how gender is being addressed both on the ground and in national and international policy discussions on climate change and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). New evidence from forest communities around the world reveal that wherever forest management recognizes the differing needs and capacities of men and women, multiple human and environmental benefits have been obtained.

“Women have important primary roles as managers of forests, land, water and other natural resources in many communities—a position which makes them powerful agents of change in formulating responses to climate change,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, IUCN. “Women are part of the solution. By inserting gender considerations in to each element of forest management and forest projects, and by developing such things as national gender-sensitive climate change strategies, we can take concrete, practical steps that lead to improved benefits for men, women and nature.”

Women across the developing world are primary users of forest resources and their sale of non-timber forest products is vital to covering household expenses and tiding them through leaner times of the year. Women’s heavy dependence on forests also means that they have more at stake than men when forests are degraded or forest access is denied. For example, in Cambodia, men collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as resin, to sell at the market and women collect NTFPs, such as bamboo, to meet family dietary needs. In Benin and Cameroon, women increase their collection and sale of NTFPs at times of increased need for income, such as during the hungry pre-harvest period.

“There are important differences between men and women’s perspectives on—and use of—forest resources for the wellbeing of their families and communities,” says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN's Environment and Development Group. “Taking a gender perspective in forestry has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with development and conservation effectiveness. We must ensure that the resources forests offer are used sustainably and equitably.”

Numerous studies have shown that women's concerns are often not the same as those of men in the community, and the concerns are often neglected as the ownership of forests and sales of valuable forest products are largely under the control of men. For instance, in Salvatierra, men from Bolivia clear forests for cultivation and hunting, while women visit forests to collect firewood and water. In southern Brazil, women know a wider diversity of plants and cite 41 species that they use exclusively; whereas men cite only 22 species they use exclusively.

“We need to start taking gender issues more seriously, not only to make our work more effective but also to redress gender imbalances by enhancing women’s empowerment, strengthening women’s rights and ensuring that women get their fair share of benefits. More men must take up gender advocacy instead of letting the cause fall to women, as it has in the past,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Global Gender Advisor. “This means taking account of gender differences not only when planning projects but also when designing policy interventions that will affect forest communities. When we begin to take these proactive steps towards equality, we will see numerous human and environmental benefits.”
 

For more information, please contact:

• Daniel Shaw, IUCN Media Relations, m SA +27 74 184 7969, m CH +41 79 345 1404, e daniel.shaw@iucn.org
• Brian Thomson, IUCN Media Relations, m SA +27 74 186 8665, m CH +41 79 721 8326, e brian.thomson@iucn.org
• Maggie Roth, IUCN Media Relations, m +1 202 262 5313, e maggie.roth@iucn.org