Achieving the twin goals of protecting the planet and improving humanity’s wellbeing relies on women having the agency and space to co-govern the natural resources they - and their families - depend on for their livelihoods. Reflecting on COP27’s Gender Day, we look at how better understanding women’s access to, use, and control of land, forests and natural resources in Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) could be utilised to support climate action.
COP27 is well underway in Egypt amid mounting concerns around the world about meeting the Paris Agreement targets and doing so in a way that benefits communities and individuals equitably and creates a more environmentally and socially resilient way of living.
Key to this is the notion of climate justice – ensuring that the costs and benefits of climate change and action are shared fairly, and that processes to make decisions about climate change impacts and responses are fair, transparent and accountable.).
Increasingly, the language and approach of climate justice is being used by academics and advocates for gender equality, putting the issue of power and rights even higher on the agenda for change: climate justice cannot be achieved without gender justice.
At the same time, gender justice must take into account the unequal impacts of climate change on women, as well as the barriers to female participation in decisions about finding solutions to climate change.
Communal tenure and forest resources
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the governance of forest-related resources: across the world, women are the primary users of forest resources. They play essential roles in forest management, sustainable conservation and climate change adaptation and mitigation. But heavy dependence on forests and their associated products can make women more vulnerable to the effects of losing those resources through forest loss or degradation.
At COP26, countries and major donors pledged $1.7bn to support IPLC forest tenure rights, recognising the crucial role IPLCs play in conserving forests and biodiversity.
Many IPLCs govern their land and forest resources as a communal asset. With the right set of governance conditions, community-based forest tenure has the potential to reduce deforestation, improve carbon sequestration and expand livelihood options for rural communities when compared with state-managed forests.). Research has shown that secure resource rights and social equity are key enablers of effective community governance.
But while most discussions related to the growing support for IPLC rights tend to focus on how to strengthen collective rights to improve communal tenure security, discussions about community governance often miss out what is happening within communities, particularly the implications for gender justice.
Unpacking communal tenure
For forest tenure transition to achieve the desired social and environmental improvements, it must inclusively support the diverse needs of both women and men, and reflect their diverse voices.
It is clear that community rights do not equal rights for women in today’s forest sector. There is structural discrimination that sidelines women’s influence in how forest resources are used and governed in community-based forestry.
- Nayna Jhaveri in Forest tenure pathways to gender equality
Integrating women into decision-making and planning processes related to land-use and natural resource management is vital, not only to take account of those impacts but also to make use of women’s different knowledge of forest products.
Why women’s forest tenure rights are important
Secure access to, and use of, land and property – or tenure security – can play a key role in strengthening the ability of asset holders to respond to climate shocks and stresses, as well as incentivising future investments in adaptation and mitigation.
Yet, Prindex data has shown that across 140 surveyed countries, the equivalent of almost one in five adult women feel insecure about their land and property rights. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, women are more likely to feel insecure about their land and property rights than men.
What needs to happen
To ensure that the funds being pledged for collective IPLC forest governance can help tackle the interlinking processes of tenure insecurity and deforestation, programme design needs to unpack community governance and recognise the needs and roles of different groups of women and men, and intersectional forms of discrimination in diverse forest tenure arrangements.
This depends on involving women at all levels of discussion – community, national and international – to drive resources to activities that will achieve the most impact on wellbeing and climate outcomes.
This process also needs to “fully engage men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change and as strategic partners and allies in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change” as noted in the COP27 informal note on gender.
How more data can help
There is surprisingly little data on intra-community dynamics of resource management. This can and must be rectified by using gender-situational analysis to assess:
- The degree of gender equality in statutory and customary normative systems and practices on land and forest tenure;
- The participation of women and men from different groups in the governance of communal lands, and
- The diverse barriers to those groups obtaining tenure recognition, feeling secure about their tenure and asserting forest rights, and participating effectively in forest governance bodies.
Keeping gender justice at the forefront of climate negotiations
As decision makers from around the world gathered for COP27s’ Gender Day on 14th November, we see a landscape where gender justice and climate change has risen up the UNFCCC agenda, including discussions about the role of women in IPLC groups as stewards of vulnerable land. We also saw women themselves seizing the reins to strengthen their collective voices in driving resources to areas that will benefit people and the planet.
This must now move beyond discussions: global and national processes need to sustain that focus and rapidly strengthen the ability for women and IPLC groups to participate equally in decisions about using natural resources in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown