Women in Yogyakarta, Indonesia participate in a community meeting on the future of their village. Photo: Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo / World Bank

Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) is an indigenous peoples’ organization that advocates and works on the elaboration and operationalization of indigenous peoples’ sustainable, self-determined development. Learn more about its work here.

In the aftermath of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States—history’s largest greenhouse gas emitter—from the Paris climate agreement, many climate advocates and international development actors have intensified their commitment to finding alternative solutions to the climate crisis. One promising possibility lies in securing the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who live on, manage, and claim forests that contain at least one fourth of the world’s aboveground tropical forest carbon. Yet communities’ legal rights to these lands remain insecure: while they customarily claim more than half the global land mass, governments recognize their ownership rights to just 10 percent.

Another potential, complementary strategy lies in REDD+ countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. These efforts are supported by the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN REDD), as well as the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). In its design, REDD+ aims to reduce emissions and deforestation by working with governments to offer incentives to protect forests, and with communities to encourage sustainable forestry practices. Thus, it presents an opportunity for the international development community to invest in communities’ stewardship of their customary lands as a key strategy in the global struggle against climate change.

Yet, new and ongoing research has revealed that REDD+ initiatives are not living up to their potential to incorporate the conservation knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and local communities—especially the distinct resource management skills of indigenous and rural women. Women constitute more than half the population of the world’s indigenous and local communities, and play a unique and key role in the management of community forests and maintenance of biodiversity. Due to demographic shifts, these roles and responsibilities continue to increase.

Despite this, women are all too often excluded from key decisions at the community and international level alike.  New research from RRI—which analyzed legal frameworks governing community forests in 30 developing countries— found that REDD+ efforts in the 21 FCPF participant countries analyzed have had little or no impact on the tenure rights of indigenous and rural women. The gender equality implied in the Cancun Agreements and related REDD+ safeguards is not reflected in the national laws of FCPF participant countries, suggesting that REDD+ efforts have not yet met their goal with respect to indigenous and rural women.

Ongoing research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on the impact of REDD+ initiatives on community livelihoods highlights the need for policies that respond to the unique and different ways that local communities use their forests. Studies also contradicted the prevailing notion that men extract timber and women exclusively extract firewood and non-timber forest products. The research also points to ways of increasing women’s participation in forest-management decisions, and highlights the need for more data on the gender-differentiated use of community forests.

REDD+ initiatives are not living up to their potential to incorporate the conservation knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and local communities—especially the distinct resource management skills of indigenous and rural women.

Around the world, women and communities are mobilizing to respond to these challenges. In February 2017, women leaders and indigenous representatives from 12 FCPF participant countries in the Asia Pacific region met to discuss the status of indigenous women’s engagements in REDD+ processes. The workshop, led by Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education) and the Center for Upland Development (CERDA) , resulted in a collaborative advocacy document aimed at providing indigenous women with a tool for engagement in REDD+ implementation, especially at the national and local levels.

In the discussion on barriers to participation, participants noted that women’s capacity to engage in climate change initiatives remains constrained by limited outreach, resources, and support. Further, indigenous women are most often left out of public life and decision-making because of the constraints on their time due to the numerous responsibilities they bear for their families and communities. Existing practices and approaches may not be effective for indigenous women, given that the work and agricultural cycle, spiritual matters, and other socio-cultural and community considerations have to be taken into account.

Participants noted that strengthening indigenous women’s agencies and institutions, as well as Indigenous Peoples’ communities and organizations, is crucial to be able to articulate, negotiate, and operationalize women’s visions of sustained climate resilience and inclusive development. According to the document, this includes “better understanding of the context of indigenous women’s marginalization among REDD+ actors and addressing this within and among indigenous organizations/communities and in the broader social context.”

These studies and lessons from around the world point to two important global trends: women’s local-level contexts must be better considered in REDD+ initiatives, and their unique perspectives must be included in governance bodies. If women lack the ability to meaningfully participate in community-level decision-making about community forests, including the negotiation of the terms of REDD+ projects, women’s livelihoods and economic agency suffers—as does the sustainable development of their communities.

Indigenous and community organizations increasingly recognize the gap between the vision behind REDD+ and its implementation, and are working to build indigenous and rural women’s capacity to shape projects. A Tebtebba initiative in Vietnam, for instance, targets indigenous women in two emissions reduction pilot areas under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The project seeks to enable indigenous women to design a community-owned REDD+ initiative that is sustainable, self-determined, and responsive to the needs of indigenous women and communities.

REDD+ and initiatives that put communities first in climate change mitigation efforts are more important than ever. But they can only succeed when women’s rights within communities, and the key role they play in managing and preserving the vital forests on which we all depend, are recognized. Ensuring that indigenous and rural women enjoy secure rights to community lands is a crucial step in this process.

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