Moving from gender-blindness to gender transformation in REDD+?

What safeguards have to say about gender equality and women’s inclusion
Leaving their oars behind, the Kichwa villagers cross a bridge over the Jondachi river with their bounty, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita/CIFOR

While attention to the experiences of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and Local Communities (LCs) is key to tropical forest initiatives, failure to consider inequalities and exclusion within these groups – or the intersection of social categories of exclusion – may reproduce barriers to justice and well-being.

One of the most important of these categories is gender. There is growing attention to the link between gender equality and effective forest-based climate action, as well as to the broader goals of addressing poverty by transforming the gendered structures and processes that limit opportunities, resources, and choices. UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, gender equality, includes the need to strengthen women’s land ownership and rights, and the UNFCCC recognizes women’s unique vulnerabilities to climate change and calls for gender-responsive climate policy at multiple levels. Women are also important agents of change.

This international attention has not been reflected in the implementation of REDD+. Climate mitigation actions must ensure recognition of the women of IPs and LCs and their experiences but must also go beyond simply “adding and stirring women into the REDD+ pot”.

As part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+, we are working on a series of flyers exploring the rights of IPs and LCs under eleven voluntary safeguards standards for REDD+, and safeguards guidelines of multilateral funding institutions (for simplicity, we will refer to them generically from now on as “standards”). Our aim is to provide lessons for the application of such standards in different national and subnational contexts, to enable proponents of initiatives (and other interested parties) to compare their safeguards provisions with those of others, and for REDD+ implementers to consider the implications and benefits of supporting the rights of IPs and LCs.

For the most recent flyer, titled “Safeguards at a glance: Are voluntary standards supporting gender equality and women’s inclusion in REDD+?”, we examine if and how those standards and guidelines recognize gender inequalities and women’s exclusion when engaging with IPs and LCs. How do they address women and gender? Can they do better than “do no harm”? Can they provide a pathway to gender transformative approaches?

Safeguards standards at a glance

Our findings are summarized in the flyer in a table comparing six criteria.

The first line of the table (a) rates each guideline or standard as recognizing gender inequalities/ exclusion (as noted in the first flyer of the series). The other five criteria emerged from an analysis of the arenas in which the different standards addressed these concerns. These included the collection of gender disaggregated data (especially on tenure and resource rights) as part of project baselines; the inclusion of women in participatory spaces and holding gender-sensitive consultations; the design of equitable benefit sharing mechanisms, ensuring tenure security for both men and women; and the implementation of grievance mechanisms that are gender-responsive and accessible to women.

In the table, then, each is assessed according to these five themes: (b) assessments/ baselines; (c) consultations/ communication; (d) benefit sharing; (e) land and resource rights; and (f) grievance mechanisms. We reviewed documents published by each standard or institution, rating them as fully aligning with (yes), aligning in a limited way (partial), or not at all (no), with each criterion.


The table is a snapshot of what these standards are trying to do, what they are not, which ones are more rigorous, and what might be possible in terms of their support for gender equality and women’s inclusion in the REDD+ process and beyond.

Almost all of the standards explicitly considered gender issues; this growing gender awareness is commendable. Together, they presented a wide scope of different requirements regarding the integration of gender considerations. These included the collection of gender disaggregated data – especially on tenure/resource rights – as part of project baselines (7/11 standards), the inclusion of women gender-sensitive or -inclusive participatory spaces and consultations (10/11), and the design of equitable benefit sharing mechanisms (7/11).

As for land and resource rights, most of the standards (8/11) considered at least one of three gender-related criteria: data, consultations, and tenure and resource security. The first included requirements for having specific data on women’s tenure and resources and consideration of their specific roles in land and/or resource management (5/11). The second required the participation of women in land and resources assessments, and only for cases when property rights are affected by a project’s activities (3/11). The third was only considered by one standard (1/11).

Two standards (2/11) required that grievance mechanisms were gender responsive. This is a worrying omission among most standards considering the potential of REDD+ actions to impact the rights of IP and LC women. Given the distinct inequalities and exclusions faced by women, there must be appropriate channels for them to raise their concerns without repercussions, as well as pathways for redress when required.

We found that in the standards reviewed, gender-inclusive or -sensitive usually referred to overcoming the participation barriers for women and ensuring their voice in decision making. This is a positive step, but it remains to be seen if it will be put into practice. Few provided guidelines on how to operationalize inclusion or required specific indicators to monitor progress.

From gender-blind initiatives to a gender-transformative REDD+

There is a clear, commendable turn away from gender-blind requirements in the standards reviewed. But there is much more to do. At a minimum, safeguards assuring that actions ‘do no harm’ need to be rigorously implemented and monitored. However, REDD+ initiatives are mostly missing an opportunity to go beyond minimum standards to engage with IP and LC women as rights-holders, changemakers, leaders, and partners in the effort to address the climate emergency.

A gender-transformative approach to REDD+ would challenge the underlying structures and processes that uphold inequality, for example by seeking to address the underlying root causes of the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change. REDD+ initiatives and their proponents can catalyse transformation through collaborations and partnerships with communities that ensure inclusion and equal access to land, resources, and benefits and support self-determination. These processes must adapt and respond to different contexts, recognizing that the informal and formal norms and barriers that shape inequalities can vary between and within communities.

REDD+ standards should be designed to support gender equality and women’s inclusion by harnessing their strengths and voices, with specific implementation guidelines and indicators to monitor progress.

We will continue to delve into these issues in the coming year by analysing safeguard standards and their implementation, complemented by fieldwork in Indonesia, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This research is part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+. The funding partners that have supported this research include the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad, Grant No. QZA-21/0124), International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU, Grant No. 20_III_108), and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRPFTA) with financial support from the CGIAR Fund Donors.

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