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The Role Of Women In Early REDD+ Implementation: Lessons For Future Generations


Researchers and practitioners have extensively discussed the potential of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategies to help or harm forest-based communities, but less attention has been paid to the gender dimensions of this conservation intervention. Safeguard policies aim to ensure that REDD+ does not harm women, but interventions that do not seek to address gender imbalances at the outset could end up perpetuating them.

This case study is based on research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in 77 villages at 20 REDD+ sites across six countries. It finds that women – even where they use forests as much or more than men – are less involved in REDD+ initiative design decisions and processes. This situation can have potentially significant implications for implementation and future outcomes. This research study further suggests that “participation,” while a central requirement of REDD+ projects in indigenous and other local communities, is only a partial solution to addressing women’s needs in ways that strategically strengthen their position in REDD+ project design and decision-making. Gender-responsive analyses are needed to understand real and perceived gender differences and anticipate risks.

Problem, challenge or context: 

This case study discusses the role of women in REDD+ initiative design decisions and processes. It also helps us understand that women generally have a lesser voice than men in forest communities and participate less in decision making, particularly with regard to forests and forest resources. 

REDD+ has the potential to achieve important benefits for biodiversity conservation and to secure the provision of important ecosystem services. Joint planning for REDD+ implementation and the achievement of related CBD Biodiversity Aichi Targets Five and 15) can help countries develop cost-effective and complementary approaches to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. National Biodiversity Strategic and Action Plans (NBSAPs) are one of the best vehicles to carry this work forward.

Specific elements of components: 

Concern over the contribution of forest clearing and degradation to climate change has led to the promotion of REDD+ strategies. This performance-based mechanism allows forest stakeholders at multiple scales (from national to household levels) to be rewarded for protecting or enhancing the carbon sequestration capacity of forests. A coalition of rainforest countries, led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, put forth the initial proposal at the eleventh meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP11) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005 in Montreal. This action placed REDD+ firmly on the global climate change agenda. 

REDD+ policy makers and proponents (organizations or entities designing and implementing subnational REDD+ programs and projects) that are sensitive to the needs of forest-based peoples may fail to understand or address the specific needs of women related to forest and REDD+ policies. As a result, even if communities have opportunities to benefit from REDD+, an undifferentiated approach may still leave women out. Concerns about women’s participation and role in REDD+ stem from substantial field evidence that women tend to have less voice than men in forest communities and participate less in decision making, particularly with regard to forests and forest resources.

This case study examines the gender dimensions of REDD+ and how best to design, implement and monitor REDD+ initiatives. These guidelines aim to ensure that REDD+ implementation in the field leads to the effective engagement of both rural men and women, encourages greater awareness and understanding of gender and forests, and lays the groundwork for community empowerment and informed participation in REDD+. 

The action taken:
The project compared female performance in intervention (REDD+) and control (non-REDD+) villages, both before and after the introduction of REDD+ interventions through a counterfactual approach called BACI (before-after/control-intervention) with the goal of extracting lessons for future REDD+ policies and practices (Jagger et al. 2010). The survey sites selected represented key REDD+ countries and captured a wide variety of REDD+ initiatives, globally. The data come from field research in 77 villages at 20 REDD+ sites across six countries: Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam. Within countries, REDD+ initiatives were chosen based on proponents’ interest in an outside evaluation and the prior identification of specific villages implementing REDD+ interventions. 

Countries were selected on the basis of the following criteria: 

• Large tropical forest countries where REDD+ was being pioneered and many subnational REDD+ initiatives were in place(Brazil, Indonesia, Peru); 
• Diversity of stages on the forest transition curve (e.g. high deforestation in Indonesia and forestry recovery in Vietnam); 
• Presence of a CIFOR office in the country (Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Peru, Vietnam); 
• Strong donor interest (Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania)

The case study drew on gender-disaggregated data from village surveys. Separate focus-group discussions were also held with women and men. Data were elicited on the perceptions of women’s participation in community decision-making, the use of forest products, and the knowledge of REDD+ processes during the planning stages. On average, 17 villagers participated in each village focus group, with greater male participation (66%).

Key lessons learned: 

Supporting women’s full and effective participation in REDD+ initiatives requires in-depth knowledge of specific local social norms and gender dynamics by those promoting forestry management and conservation policies and measures. REDD+ initiatives must explore ways in which men and women differ with regard to key processes related to REDD+ implementation. Promoting female participation alone is insufficient. 

Women and men use forests differently. For example, men are more oriented to commercial uses while women are generally more tied to subsistence uses. Men use more high value and processed resources like timber, while women use more non-timber or unprocessed forest products. Men may be more likely to participate in formal markets and women in informal markets. 
When designing REDD+ projects, the project team should consider how gender affects household and village decision-making, land and natural resources management and information dissemination. This step lays the groundwork for community empowerment and informed participation in REDD+ strategies. The information will create a greater understanding of the role of gender in decision-making about forest management and help ensure that both women and men can be effectively engaged in project implementation. 

A female presence on boards, committees or at meetings does not guarantee an equal female influence on the planning and implementation of REDD+ strategies. Even with specific efforts to include them, women often lack the experience, confidence and skills to engage in the public sphere. There is no particular reason to assume that men in communities will effectively represent women’s interests. Men may not understand women-specific criteria or priorities regarding forest goods and services.

Impacts and outcomes: 

The research project found that female representation on village committees did not necessarily result in equal levels of influence and participation in village life. Across the 68 villages that were studied, on average, there was a strong perception among women and men that women were well represented and engaged in decision-making processes, while actual female participation rates were quite low. Sixty one percent of the respondents perceived that women were sufficiently represented in important village decision-making bodies. In actuality, women comprised 17% of decision-making bodies. Sixty four percent of male and female respondents agreed that women were usually able to influence village decisions, and 79% agreed that women participated actively in meetings. 

Additionally, there was no clear relationship between women’s participation in decisions regarding forest-use and women’s actual role in forest resource use and management. The perception by women that they were sufficiently represented by a decision-making body had a week, positive correlation (0.17) with the percentage of women participating. Female perception of their ability to influence village decisions was not correlated (0.03) with the number of women participating in decision-making. With the exception of the Cameroon villages, the project suggested that women were not included in forest resource decision-making, even when they went into the forest as much, or more often than men. Across the research sites, fewer women then men had a basic understanding of REDD+ strategies, and women’s access to REDD+ information lagged behind men’s. Women’s involvement in REDD+ initiatives was limited to participating in meetings or training sessions. Additionally, women played limited or no role in clarifying land rights, carbon monitoring and rule enforcement. 

Contact details: 
CGIAR Consortium, Email:, Authors: A.M. Larson, T. Dokken, A.E. Duchelle, S. Atmadja, I.A.P. Resosudarmo, P. Cronkleton, M. Cromberg, W. Sunderlin, A. Awono And G. Selaya
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