By Chris Lang
“As a thoroughly socially and gender just approach, sustainable development requires addressing the socio-economic, political and ecological inequalities and power asymmetries through an intersectional gender lens. Intersectional feminist perspectives enable to see that indigenous and other marginalized rural women play a crucial role in engaging with climate change, reducing deforestation and sustainable forest management. Due to the specific positioning of indigenous women as women and members of indigenous groups, their contributions for sustaining forests and entire livelihoods and their valuable knowledge about soil, trees and encompassing ecosystems they have to be understood as key actors for REDD+ – in the context of broader environmental transformation.”
That’s from the conclusion of a recent paper written by Christine Löw, of Goethe-Universitat in Frankfurt, Germany. The paper is titled “Gender and Indigenous concepts of climate protection: a critical revision of REDD+ projects”, and it was published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability in April 2020.
The paper argues that a gender-specific perspective in REDD research is rare, because forests are often seen as an “inherently male business”, and that REDD is “only a technical issue”. As a result Löw writes,
Although millions of women, predominantly indigenous women, are involved in forest work and forestry their importance for natural resource management has been systematically devalued and invisibilized.
Löw notes that there are several critical articles about REDD looking at Indigenous Peoples’ struggles about property and tenure rights, inequitable distribution of benefits, negative livelihood impacts, market-based financing commodifying nature and the expansion of socio-economic conflicts. However, few scholars have addressed the relevance of gender relations within discussions about the sustainable livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.
An intersectional gender approach is “imperative”
Löw identifies two strands in the debate about the definition of gender:
- one that understands gender as synonym for woman/women and equates it with socially prescribed roles of women (e.g. responsible for household chores, nurturing due to inherent ‘feminine’ traits, closer to nature),
- a second one, influenced by new insights within gender research, suggesting a more dynamic and flexible working of gender that analyzes the production of males/masculinities and females/femininities and does not assume ‘woman’/’women’ as empirical entities. This thinking, describing itself as intersectional feminist approaches, highlights that gender relations interact with other social inequalities along ethnicity/race, class, age, rural/urban, caste, indigeneity, sexuality and so on and are intrinsically related to powerful asymmetries on intersubjective, local, national and global scales.
Many articles about REDD still use women and men as binary terms, without looking at intersections with indigeneity, caste, age, wealth, and so on. Löw points out that an intersectional gender approach is imperative for “just and sustainable development outcomes”.
Who should protect the forests?
Löw writes that most REDD projects, and studies of REDD projects, started without a recognition of “gender relations, the different socio-economic and political circumstances between women and men concerning participation, livelihoods issues (such as market access, income, rights) and gendered perceptions of forest management”.
Forest conservation initiatives such as REDD that marginalise or omit women’s expertise and knowledge of species, plants and forest management are “not effective for sustaining sustainable ecosystems and people led development”, Löw writes. An intersectional feminist perspective reveals different information about how to protect forests, and who should be directly involved in protecting them.
Löw cites research that shows that Indigenous women diversify crops and develop traditional plant and livestock species that are more tolerant of extreme weather. Indigenous women also protect forests from the drivers of deforestation such as logging, mining, monoculture plantations, industrial agriculture, and so on.
The life cycle of the Savara Adivasi
Löw describes the life cycle of the Savara Adivasi tribe in Andhra Pradesh State, India. Based on a critique of the top-down nature of REDD-projects, members of the Food Sovereignty Alliance India developed their own autonomous and democratic model for climate adaptation. Their model is based on Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, experience, and wisdom, the Indigenous rhythm of life, or “life cycle”.
Dr Sagari R Ramdas is a member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance. In a report about the Savara Adivasi life cycle, Ramdas describes the problems with REDD:
In practice, REDD entails sinking carbon in standing stocks of trees, and raising new plantations, often on indigenous territories. From previous such models of carbon trade that had been tested in their territories, indigenous peoples were aware of how such policies and programs alienated Adivasis from their territories and forests. They had been forced to relinquish customary practices and forest governance, undermining indigenous resilience and climate coping strategies and threatening local food sovereignty.
Löw quotes from Ramdas’ report:
The Adivasi community became deeply involved in identifying a framework of enquiry to facilitate local assessments of climatic impacts and response strategies. Intense dialogue amongst the different Adivasi communities and co-producers resulted in the idea of reconnecting with the indigenous rhythm of life or ‘life cycle’. This life cycle is a representation of how the community members live their lives, based on the Adivasi worldview. It describes their relationship to their territories, seasons, food, forests, and the cultural cycles of life, in time and space.
Ramdas describes the fact that state and global policies that refuse to recognise indigenous approaches and knowledge as a “major challenge”. She notes that “States are still determined to push false carbon trade arrangements, such as REDD/REDD+ as the solution to climate change, despite evidence of another way forward based on Adivasi peoples worldviews and life practice.”
PHOTO Credit: Savara community mapping their territory and life cycle, Charanya, Food Sovereignty Alliance India.