30 March 2017
Forests and Gender: A Catalytic Alliance for Sustainable Development
UN Photo/Eva Fendiaspara
story highlights

In the complex endeavour for the conservation and sustainable management of forests, the pursuit of gender equality proves to be a catalyst, reinvigorating policy and project options.

The “Women’s Channel” in Panama is a pioneer process that enables women’s views and proposals to inform national policy and actions for forest conservation.

New policy and financial instruments for forests, such as REDD+, are increasingly relying on gender mainstreaming to unfold their potential and better achieve their outcomes.

While it is widely acknowledged that gender equality and women’s empowerment act as catalysts for achieving sustainable development, many efforts still focus on advocacy and isolated activities. The challenge ahead lies in forging alliances between gender equality and every policy and programme for sustainable development. This includes forests, a key ecosystem that simultaneously underpins local livelihoods, national economies and the global fight to mitigate climate change.

Forest-gender linkages: old issues, new endeavours

The fate of forests is inextricably linked to gender issues. In rural areas, women play critical roles within forests, as users and custodians: women’s knowledge and practices of forests sustain household economies and healthy ecosystems alike. Yet forestry is a male-dominated sector, with men leading the key economic and policy decisions related to forests. This paradox is further aggravated by persistent socioeconomic, cultural and legal barriers that prevent women to fully participate in, contribute to, and benefit from forest policy and management efforts.

The only way ahead is, first, to acknowledge the differentiated and valuable knowledge, skills and roles of women and men in forest resources and management; and then, to integrate such gender differentiated perspectives into policy and programme responses. Such a forest-gender nexus will support the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land). As gender gaps and barriers do not rest on a multitude of issues, undertaking gender mainstreaming cannot be a one-off activity. It is rather a cross-cutting issue, with multiple entry points to pursue.

This systematic gender approach is particularly being employed in new policy and financial instruments for forest conservation, namely in REDD+, an innovative, international incentive mechanism to address deforestation (REDD+ is recognised under the UNFCCC and within the Paris Agreement). The policy process that underpins REDD+ offers a fresh ground to break down gender inequalities: here follows a synthesis of experiences and practices that the UN partnership for REDD+, the UN-REDD Programme, has undertaken or promoted within its multi-pronged approach on gender. Such endeavours foster forest-gender alliances, which help promote progress across various SDGs targets, such as target 5.5 (Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life); target 5.A (Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws); target 5.C (Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels); target 13.B (Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities); and target 15.2 (By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally).

Unlocking local realities and field experiences

To overcome historical gender barriers, the UN-REDD Programme supports mechanisms that give voice to local women within policy avenues. In Panama, the Women’s Channel of the national process of “active-listening of the forest” is a pioneer case of enabling indigenous, Afro-descendent and rural women to have their voices heard in land and forest issues. This exercise, undertaken in 2015, revealed alternative perspectives on forest policy, which were not only distinct, but more insightful than the dominant, commodity-oriented views of men. The Women’s Channel thus nurtured policy options to address deforestation that simultaneously enhance community livelihoods.

In addition, the UN community-based REDD+ programme (CBR+), which is implementing about 100 local projects across six countries, has embedded gender as a cross-cutting feature, with wide support from both government and grassroots stakeholders. In particular, all the CBR+ country plans include gender parameters in their criteria for project selection and within their monitoring frameworks, also proposing targets or indicators related to women’s participation and gender equality. The impact of such an approach is already noticeable. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, CBR+ has created political space for indigenous women to regenerate and regain the forests, thus protecting the local livelihoods and injecting a sustainable outlook in their communities.

Forest-gender alliances are also reaching the international arena, further helping to ensure local women’s perspectives inform forest policy. In 2015, during the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and with the support of the UN-REDD Programme, an innovative exchange platform was created: the Indigenous Women’s Dialogue on Gender & Forests. The third consecutive session, to be held in May 2017, will give indigenous women leaders the opportunity to continue sharing experiences, seek partnerships and anticipate ways to mainstream gender in forest conservation.

Institutionalising forest-gender linkages

In parallel, governments need to establish institutional mechanisms to ensure the uptake of such gender perspectives within national policy. In this vein, Cambodia created in 2014 an inter-ministerial gender taskforce to inform their ongoing policy-making on forest and climate affairs. Likewise, the Government of Ghana established a Gender sub-Working Group to enhance its REDD+ policy process, which resulted in a Gender and REDD+ Action Plan (2015), which guides the Government in addressing gender barriers around forest matters. In Viet Nam, the Government proposed Lam Dong Province to be the pioneer for integrating gender within a provincial action plan for REDD+, which has resulted in a model for the other provinces to follow.

These institutional mechanisms yield a multiplicity of outcomes: they raise awareness on gender issues within government, commission studies and surveys to feed policy deliberations, convene trainings for civil servants and introduce gender parameters in public policy. In essence, they anchor gender in the overall national governance while assisting with monitoring the gender responsiveness of the policies and programmes they have contributed to.

Methodological approaches

These multi-faceted experiences to mainstream gender in policy initiatives, projects and finance instruments related to forests and climate change, notably around REDD+, have resulted in a wealth of lessons, which are being compiled and broadcasted. In 2015, the UN-REDD Programme and the World Bank organised a joint multi-stakeholder event to examine concrete actions for social inclusion and gender equality in REDD+. More recently, the UN-REDD Programme published a paper on lessons learned on gender and REDD+ in Latin America, compiling and analysing experiences from Chile, Ecuador, Panama and Peru. This knowledge will guide development practitioners to pragmatically break down gender barriers around natural resource management. It also illustrates the transformational dynamic that gender equality brings into any process for sustainable development.

The UN-REDD Programme has released an action-oriented tool to guide the mainstreaming of gender along the policy cycle for REDD+ that provides a “menu” of gender-responsive activities, concrete examples, and possible gender indicators to monitor progress and assess success.

Based on all these experiences and lessons, the UN-REDD Programme has just released an action-oriented tool to guide the mainstreaming of gender along the policy cycle for REDD+. This Methodological Brief on Gender is organized across five key streams: (i) gender analyses; (ii) awareness and capacity building; (iii) gender-responsive participation; (iv) gender-responsive planning and monitoring; and (v) knowledge management on gender. For each stream, it provides a “menu” of gender-responsive activities, concrete examples, and possible gender indicators to monitor progress and assess success. This methodological instrument aims at moving national action on gender from advocacy – which has so far prevailed – to influencing how policies and programmes are designed, revised, adopted, implemented and monitored. It goes beyond gender-sensitive action (such as basic awareness and “doing no harm”) to instead achieve gender-responsive policies – and, through them, more effectively promote forest protection, combat climate change and enhance local livelihoods.


Forests are a crucial ecosystem for mitigating climate change and advancing sustainable development. As much as requiring new financing and policy approaches, such as REDD+, forests will benefit from determined action on gender equality. All these new forces are inextricably linked and mutually reinforce one another. Policy reforms, inclusive partnerships, new climate-finance incentives and gender equality are all part of the same transformation that societies need to undertake, with determination and innovation, to ultimately achieve sustainable development.

The UN-REDD Programme is an international partnership to support countries in implementing the REDD+ provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is led by three UN agencies (FAO, UNDP, UN Environment) and is composed of 64 partner countries and several donors across the world.

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