• Non-ICIMOD publication

The major importance of 'minor' resources: Women and plant biodiversity

  • Howard, P.
Understanding women’s influence on plant biodiversity is essential to our ability to conserve plant genetic resources, especially those plants that are useful to humans. Contrary to previous thinking, it is becoming clear that women know most about these plants because, throughout history, women’s daily work has required more of this knowledge.

This paper describes how women predominate in plant biodiversity management in their roles as housewives, plant gatherers, homegardeners, herbalists, seed custodians and informal plant breeders. But because most plant use, management and conservation occurs within the domestic realm, and because the principal values of plant genetic resources are localised and non-monetary, they are largely invisible to outsiders and are easily undervalued. Gender bias has prevailed in scientific research about people-plant relationships, and conservation policies and programmes are still largely blind to the importance of the domestic sphere, of women and of gender relations for biodiversity conservation, and to the importance of plant biodiversity for women’s status and welfare. Traditional knowledge and indigenous rights to plants are everywhere sex-differentiated, and gender inequalities are also implicated in processes leading to biological erosion.

Achieving the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity, particularly those related to sustainable use and to benefit sharing, will require much greater attention to women’s knowledge, management and rights, and to the domestic sphere. Examples of positive steps needed include: prioritising the conservation of plants that are important to women curators and reversing dynamics that lead to their erosion; recognising, valuing and promoting the inter-generational transmission of women’s traditional knowledge and practices; recognising indigenous rights systems and, within these, women’s rights to plants and land resources that sustain these plants; ensuring women’s full participation in decisions and policies that affect their plant rights and the status and welfare that they derive from plant resources; and promoting and disseminating research that enhances our knowledge of the above.
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