Women left out of forest decisions


By Barbara Fraser 

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Latin America - Firewood for fuel, fruits to feed their families, palm fiber for baskets, medicinal plants to heal their children — women in forest-dwelling communities in Latin America use a wide array of products from their farmland and forests in their daily tasks.

But when it comes to tenure rights to those forests or participation in decisions about their management, women are often left on the sidelines.

“Latin America’s land and forest tenure issues are marred with various social, legal and political complexities,” says social scientist Purabi Bose, former focal contact for the Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) research program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). “And women bear the brunt of it, directly and indirectly.”

Although some countries have policies to address those problems, there remain obstacles to implementing them, Bose says.

That leaves women — especially rural and indigenous women — particularly vulnerable, according to studies from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua and Mexico. Those studies are part of a Special Issue of the Women’s Studies International Forum, of which Bose was guest editor.

The topic is drawing increasing attention since UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 specifically calls for countries to develop policies to strengthen land rights and land ownership for women.

“That goal provides a rallying point to bring these issues more into public debate, not as something sidelined as a ‘gender issue’, but as part of a set of sustainable development goals that all of these countries have agreed on,” says Anne Larson, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and co-author of a study on women and forest tenure in Nicaragua that is part of the Special Issue.

Negotiators at global climate summits are increasingly recognizing the need to involve women, especially indigenous women, in decisions about programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

The importance of ensuring land and forest rights for indigenous people was also highlighted at the CIFOR-led Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany, in December.

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