Gender and Forests: Climate Change, Value Chains, Tenure, and Emerging Issues

CEESP member, Carol Pierce Colfer, co-authored with Bimbika Sijapati Basnett and Marléne Elias a new book – Gender and Forests: Climate Change, Value Chains, Tenure, and Emerging Issues (London, Earthscan, available for purchase in April 2016; and on CIFOR’s website in January 2017). As Colfer addresses, a gender lens allows us to examine the conditions, constraints, opportunities and expectations of women and men living in forests, from both of their perspectives. 


The simplistic assumption that forests are places only for men to work cutting down trees remains widespread, despite abundant evidence of both women’s active involvement, particularly in tropical forests, and the multiple uses that forests serve. This book pulls together recent evidence on gender and climate change, value chains, tenure, migration and land grabs, within mainly tropical forest environments. Many address conservation issues explicitly as well.

The book begins with the editors’ analysis of the chapters, using Colfer’s ‘Gender Box’ conceptual framework, including an introduction to each chapter. This is followed by a historical treatment of gender in forestry by Marilyn Hoskins, who began FAO’s work in this realm in the 1980s.

The second section, on climate change, is the most extensive, with a variety of methods used. In one chapter, a set of interviews with 14 women in Upstate New York, USA, is analyzed qualitatively, exploring the reasons a group of older women sought ‘conservation easements’ for their forest lands – many of which relate to climate change. A second chapter analyzes the Swedish policy context on climate change and gender, and the implications of the ways gender is treated/assumed/ignored. Another group of authors looks at gender via focus group discussions in 77 villages participating in 20 sub-national REDD+ initiatives in six countries: Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam, in the context of the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (GCS-REDD). Others still examine within-country differences in mitigation or adaptation to climate change (e.g., in Cameroon, South Africa, Mali); or use existing literature to identify the opportunities and risks relating to conservation and gender equity in a region (Central and West Africa), proposing an analytical framework for looking at the construction and use of power.

Tenure and gender are also addressed within different methodological approaches. The first chapter looks at the legal systems that mediate control over forest land in Liberia and Cameroon, analyzing them from a gender perspective. The second assesses the impacts of the latest Forest Law in Odisha, India, showing considerable variation in its implementation, but continuing problems in terms of gender equity that increase as the scale of action rises. The final chapter on tenure is a qualitative analysis of the territorial and other concerns of predominantly Afro-Colombian women’s groups in the Pacific Lowlands of Colombia.

Two papers deal with value chains. The first uses the literature to examine gendered value chains as they relate to forests, trees and agroforestry globally. The second adopts an historical perspective to explore gender issues throughout the wild meat value chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, tracing the animals from their origin in that country’s forests all the way to Paris, France and beyond, using ethnographic methods.
The final section is a potpourri, ranging from indigenous knowledge to migration to land grabs. Indigenous knowledge of both men and women about shea trees was examined quantitatively and qualitatively in Burkina Faso---showing more shared knowledge than might be anticipated. The second chapter highlights the important, even vital, and varying roles of migration (and the lack of policy attention to it) in two areas of Nepal. The last chapter in this section goes back in time to a study conducted in the late 1970s; and compares the present-day gender situation in a village in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where oil palm companies have become dominant, largely replacing the central role of swiddening as women’s profession.

The book includes authors and analyses from many countries and addresses a range of important gender issues. The editors attempt to increase the balance between attention to men and to women, in recognition of the usual disproportion in gender studies. They were hampered by the lack of analyses ‘out there’ on this subject, so would urge would-be authors and analysts to help fill this hiatus by looking at the masculine side of gender as well. However, despite this shortcoming, the overlap between forestry and conservation concerns on the one hand, and the ubiquity of both genders, makes this fascinating collection important and useful reading for IUCN practitioners, researchers and policymakers.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer

Work area: 
Social Policy
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