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Raising the Bar for REDD+: Strengthening the Role of Women and Gender Equality

Since 2005, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (REDD+) has functioned as a mechanism to financially incentivize the preservation of forestlands in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But beyond its original use, some organizations have also started exploring ways it can help with other development initiatives, like women’s empowerment.

Date & Time

May. 16, 2014
11:30am – 1:30pm ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Since 2005, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (REDD+) has functioned as a mechanism to financially incentivize the preservation of forestlands in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But beyond its original use, some organizations have also started exploring ways it can help with other development initiatives, like women’s empowerment.

Last month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and USAID held a multi-day workshop for development organizations from more than 20 countries who are integrating gender initiatives into REDD+ programs.

“REDD doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said IUCN’s Lorena Aguilar on May 18 at the Wilson Center for a public event that capped off the workshop. It should respond to the need to encourage women’s rights and empowerment outlined elsewhere by the international community.

Why Gender?

When REDD+ was first introduced by the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005, it didn’t include any references to gender. “Why not?” asked Aguilar. “Is it that women do not use the forest? Could it be that there are no disparities in the control, use, and access of the forest? Could it be that the knowledge for women and men is the same?”

 “I’m afraid we have to say no to all of the above,” she said. Women and men are both users of the forest, but their impacts, knowledge, and usage differ dramatically. Women are often ignored when decisions are made about resource use, despite being equally, if not disproportionately, affected. As a result many REDD programs are ineffective because they do not recognize women as stakeholders and contributors, said Andrea Quesada-Aguilar of the Women’s Environment and Development Association, effectively ignoring half the forest user base.

In response to this oversight, Aguilar formed an advocacy group for organizations attempting to do gender empowerment initiatives under the REDD+ framework in 2007. The effect was immediate. The 13th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Bali that year included the first official discussions about incorporating gender into REDD+ and there have been many on-the-ground successes since.

A “Core Area” at State

At the U.S. Department of State, Melanie Nakagawa, who works on the policy planning staff in the Secretary’s office, said Secretary of State John Kerry is encouraging every bureau and department to think about climate change. To help facilitate that, the Department has developed a policy road map which includes gender as one of three “core areas” for staff to integrate.

“On gender, we talk about how studies show…how deeply entrenched social, economic, and political inequalities are among women and girls in developing countries who suffer disproportionately from the effects of extreme weather and climate change,” Nakagawa said. But, “not only are women disproportionately affected, they are also change agents.”

REDD+ is a framework for incorporating gender empowerment that she says they’ve encouraged staff to think about. For example, the recently-launched Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPower) is “focused on empowering 8,000 female entrepreneurs across East Africa, Nigeria, and India, to bring clean energy access to 3.5 million people over the next three years,” she said. But it could be even more effective if it were implemented alongside a REDD+ framework that incentivizes saving forests.

As the Department of State prepares to roll out new guidance on gender, what Nakagawa calls “Gender 2.0,” the planning office is looking at ways it can use data accessibility to help make a greater impact on gender and climate issues. Mapping out land usage for farmers and governments could help create more productive crop yields, and from there serve as a building block for potential REDD+ incentives to discourage farmers and businesses from clearing new land. . “We’re really looking at how we take our own mapping devices…[and] make that more publicly accessible, but then build capacity to take what we know from the technology perspective, bring it to the community level, and actually implement those programs on the ground,” she said.

Agents of Change in Nepal

The Hariyo Ban Project is a five-year USAID project in Nepal that aims to use a REDD+ framework to promote sustainable forest management by empowering local stakeholders. The project involves partnerships with multiple organizations, including the government of Nepal and CARE, and utilizes participatory solutions such as community forest user groups.

Shikha Shrestha of CARE Nepal, a coordinating partner, said that unaddressed gender issues were undermining the efficacy of the project. “Our analysis found that women identified more tree species than men,” she said, but initially, only 30 percent of community forest user group members were women.

ECSP’s latest short film, ‘Scaling the Mountain: Protecting Forests for Families in Nepal’

Thanks in part to greater funding for gender efforts from partner organizations like the World Wildlife Fund’s Nepal branch, and, most critically, support from the Nepalese government, the Hariyo Ban Project has encouraged more equitable participation. The government now requires that community forest user groups have at least one woman in the position of chairperson or secretary, and as a result, overall women’s participation rates are now above 50 percent.

A pivotal decision was making women’s empowerment an issue for men. Talking to men about the importance of giving women an active leadership role in conservation programs means they will “share these stories to others in their neighborhood,” Shrestha said. “We have been able to bring together more than 8,500 deprived women and men, facilitated by the local resource person, to discuss the issue that matters the most.”

Legislative Strides in Mexico

The end result that many hope for in such grassroots efforts is codifying women’s rights. Leticia Guttierez Lorandi, a REDD+ policy advisor to The Nature Conservancy and Alianza Mexico REDD+, explained how they recently had success in their efforts to develop a “gender action plan” for Mexico.

As part of a five-year USAID-funded program to cultivate national-level gender programming, Lorandi  found that, “not only land security, but forest security is fundamental to achieve benefit-sharing mechanisms that are equitable and transparent.”

Mexico already has clear land tenure, but “only 19 percent of women in Mexico own land, and this 19 percent is all in the rural area,” she said. “In forest areas, the percentage is less; in some states, we only have four percent of women owning land.”

Lorandi said they analyzed as much of the REDD-related legal framework as they could, includingagrarian laws, rural sustainable development laws, and climate change law. They presented to Congress in May, and the result was seismic. “We got an agreement, there’s a political will from Congress to start promoting a legal reform under the lens of gender in two laws in Mexico: in the climate change law and in the sustainable forest development law,” she said.

“One of the key successes,” Lorandi said, “is that we’ve framed REDD under a general climate change framework…because if we’re talking about deforestation and degradation, those are public problems, public complex problems, because ecosystem services are essential public values, and deforestation and degradation affect those public values.”

“We Want to Be the Keepers”

Aguilar said the difference in REDD+ initiatives that incorporate gender and those that do not is plainly visible to her in the field. She recounted one instance where, while working with indigenous people in the Amazon to implement a forest measurement, reporting, and verification system, the women implored her to train them too because they understood the forest differently than men:

For them, the wood, the trees are just the pillars that hold a cathedral in which their life is in…They’re interested in the wood because it keeps their food; it keeps their medicines; it keeps what they need to survive…They said we, women, indigenous women, we want to be the keepers and avoid deforestation, because we’re not interested in nobody cutting our cathedral down.

As Nakagawa pointed out, a personal connection between policymakers and affected communities can make a big difference in building support for integrated climate efforts. Nakagawa noted the difference that seeing and hearing these stories firsthand made for one Republican Senator a few years ago, who eventually became a close collaborator on a forestry bill following a visit to rainforests in Brazil.

“What’s great…is that the stories that come out of it are so rich and exciting you want to participate and want to figure out what you [can do] about it,” she said.

Event Resources:

Drafted by Donald Borenstein, edited by Schuyler Null and Lauren Herzer.


Hosted By

Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

Global Risk and Resilience Program

The Global Risk and Resilience Program (GRRP) seeks to support the development of inclusive, resilient networks in local communities facing global change. By providing a platform for sharing lessons, mapping knowledge, and linking people and ideas, GRRP and its affiliated programs empower policymakers, practitioners, and community members to participate in the global dialogue on sustainability and resilience. Empowered communities are better able to develop flexible, diverse, and equitable networks of resilience that can improve their health, preserve their natural resources, and build peace between people in a changing world.  Read more

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