Conserving carbon and gender relations? Gender perspectives on REDD+ and global climate policy

Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi for CIFOR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Conserving carbon and gender relations? Gender perspectives on REDD+ and global climate policy

The REDD+ instrument, aimed at conserving tropical forests and its stored carbon, have explicit considerations of gender sensitivity, poverty reduction and respecting local communities embedded in the program. Still, considerations of gender issues tend to be pushed to the future and to side activities specifically directed at women. In this dissertation, Lisa Westholm argues that gender must be considered as a matter of social relations of power that is relevant at all levels of policy making, in order to avoid that policies perpetuate or exacerbate existing inequalities.


REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is an instrument under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aimed at conserving tropical forests and the carbon stored in them. Respect for local communities, poverty reduction and gender sensitivity are explicit ambitions of the program.

In this thesis I examine global policies and governance relating to REDD+. I inquire into the potential for drawing on these policies to promote a transformation of unequal gender relations. The study is based on analysis of documents relating to global REDD+ policy, and to women’s organisations advocating for gender to be taken into account in REDD+ policymaking. It also includes a case study of Burkina Faso’s national REDD+ program comprising analysis of documents, interviews with policy makers and villagers involved in REDD+ policy making and implementation, as well as participation in national and local REDD+ meetings.

Based on this, I examine the formulation of problems and the solutions proposed in relation to gender, in the official discourses on gender in REDD+ and climate policy, as well as in attempts at challenging the mainstream discourse. Drawing on the concepts of social and natural reproduction, I show how market-based discourses risk contributing to the displacement of responsibilities for reproductive work in the household and in the forest, from rich to poor, from North to South, and from men to women. To characterize this transfer of responsibilities I introduce the concept of “global environmental care chains”, which sheds light on the global linkages of rights and responsibilities involved in REDD+. I show that internal resistance within policy-making institutions as well as the disciplining effects of discourses make it difficult for women’s organisations to challenge the mainstream discourses in REDD+ policy making and propose alternative solutions or subject positions. Even when international institutions are influenced by the language of women’s organisations, their policy proposals risk perpetuating stereotypes about what men and women do in the forest, and conserving inequalities. Gender advocates thus have an important role to play in calling for policymakers to take responsibility for the changes they are aiming to effect in the daily use of natural resources of a large number of people, by implementing REDD+ at global scale, across the global South.

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