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All maps tell a story – a story about our relationship to the land.

In 2015, researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina asked indigenous villagers in the Napo River region of Peru to help them make a map of the community’s land and how it was used.  They held one workshop with men, and a separate one with women – and the maps did not turn out the same.

Both groups marked the village, nearby secondary forests, and crop gardens in the same place.

But the women’s map contained much more detailed and precise information about the location of key non-timber forests products – three kinds of palm trees from which women gather fruits for the local market, and the network of pathways leading amongst them.

“You can really tell from the men’s drawing that they aren’t the ones that extract the fruits, it’s the women,” says CIFOR scientist Iliana Monterroso, who coordinated the fieldwork. “Women have different knowledge from men – not better, just different.”

Peru is currently undertaking land titling for native communities – a process that recognizes and formalizes traditional uses of land into legal land tenure. This is where the importance of the maps comes into play. As the process requires demarcating the boundaries of the land, communities work with officials to chart their territory.



Since 1974, 1300 communities in the Peruvian Amazon have been titled, with 600 still to go. After some setbacks, the process has recently been accelerated with the influx of new funding as part of the global UN climate change initiative, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+.)

Unfortunately, new research by CIFOR suggests that indigenous women’s rich knowledge of their land tends to remain invisible in this process.

Essentially, the map that gets made is the men’s map, says Monterroso. “If you’re going to demarcate an area, you should include the perspectives from a variety of people that live there.”

Without incorporating women’s knowledge, areas of land that are important for women’s livelihood activities – and thus for the food security of the entire village – may be left out of the community’s territory.  This could lead to others using or clearing the land, or even the government titling it to someone else.  In addition, government interventions shouldn’t exacerbate existing inequalities, “but failing to include them is doing just that,” says Monterroso.

“You can’t assume a collective is going to be equal – we have to be careful about not worsening the situation of vulnerable groups when we are promoting these kinds of reforms.”

In a new infobrief, Monterroso, Anne Larson, and Pamela Cantuarias synthesise a legal review, a participatory workshop, key informant interviews, focus groups, and a household survey of more than 1000 individuals in 22 communities in the Peruvian provinces of Madre de Dios and Loreto, to spell out why paying attention to gender is an essential part of formalization – and to locate the gaps in current practice.

They found a strikingly low level of gender awareness among government officials working on the formalization process, says Larson. “Globally there’s a lot of attention being paid to women’s rights in the formalization of collective land – but not so much in Peru.”

Men dominate the process, making up 72 percent of the 32 officials surveyed – and only one respondent mentioned that strengthening women’s rights was a goal of the tenure reforms. Few people in government see women’s rights specifically as a goal or see women’s exclusion as a problem that needs to be addressed, Larson says.

Without that recognition, it’s all too easy for women’s interests to get left off the map.

"If you come in to a community with a ‘gender agenda’ you’re likely to be ignored or told to leave. There’s a lot of backlash"

Anne Larson

“In most communities, women don’t have as strong a public life, which means they won’t be the ones meeting with NGOs, they won’t be the ones going to public meetings if they’re held at a time when they need to be taking care of the children or making a meal.”

If they do make it to the meetings, they are much less likely to speak publicly in front of the men in their community. Visiting technicians, usually male, tend to reinforce existing stereotypes and seek out men to talk to, and women are also disadvantaged by language – they are less likely than men to have a good grasp of Spanish.

Even though the CIFOR study found that titling did markedly improve indigenous people’s sense of tenure security, the results differed across gender lines. “The CIFOR study found that women are significantly less secure in their tenure than men in both Madre de Dios and Loreto,” says Larson. “Their perception of security was 10 percentage points below men.”



Part of the reason women aren’t being explicitly included in these processes is because of resistance by the communities themselves – particularly from men.

In another brief (in Spanish) Larson and Monterroso spell out four reasons why:

Firstly, “We’ve always done it this way”: Male leaders say it’s against tradition to change tact, and NGOs and officials are reluctant to intervene.

Secondly, “Women aren’t good at that”: Gender stereotypes exist both in communities and among administrators, and reinforce the idea that women belong in the home. Women too are less likely to express their opinions about the forest or territory in public.

 Next, Impossible requirements: Some communities require that members involved in formalization decision-making have a secondary education or know how to read and write – excluding a large number of women.

 And finally, “It’s too expensive/it will be a headache”: involving women is seen as over-complicating the process.

These barriers are significant, Larson says, and difficult to overcome.

“Indigenous movements have spearheaded the titling of native communities – and those movements themselves are very male dominated. So it’s hard for them to fully take on gender– it’s a battle. If you come in to a community with a ‘gender agenda’ you’re likely to be ignored or told to leave. There’s a lot of backlash.”

For the government, therefore, there’s a tendency to treat gender as an internal community problem they don’t need to get involved in, “but that’s just shirking responsibility, trying to avoid the issue reinforces inequality,” Larson says.

“Women should be an essential part of the team,” adds Monterroso, who cites that better cross-working with institutions and a set aside budget for gender integration, would be a big step forward.

It’s not just outsiders and feminists pushing for change, Larson says, but indigenous women themselves. The NGO Organización Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas Andinas y Amazónicas del Perú (Onamiap) is fighting for women’s inclusion in decision-making about collective land, as are women inside the more traditionally male-dominated indigenous federations.



As it stands, women are constrained by multiple layers regulating their rights and participation, Larson says.

“Women are not only subject to whatever the law says, they’re subject to what their communities say, and then they’re also subject to the rules of their household. They are triply burdened by the context around them in terms of what rights they have to land.”

So what’s the answer? The NGOs and government agencies dealing with the formalisation process must be trained in gender, Larson believes.

There are ways of promoting women’s inclusion without coming across like an imperialistic coloniser, she says.

“There are tricks that make it possible for women to participate – holding meetings at times of day when women aren’t tied up with their domestic duties, or making decisions on a certain topic not on the day it was discussed, but the day after – so that men have time to go home and discuss it with their wives.”

“As a scientist, these are all tactics you could use. But what you do in any particular location has to be based on what you find – you may find an incredible group of women leaders or you may find women that barely leave their homes.”

“My proposal is to get people trained in gender, and multicultural approaches (or interculturalidad as defined by Peruvian law), onto the formalisation teams. Then they can help to bridge the interaction at the community level.”


CIFOR’s ‘Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform’ was funded by the European Commission and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The research supported by this work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), led by CIFOR.

This research was supported by CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Peruvian Amazon Gender