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Gender in the Andean Forests Landscape: Reflections from the Andean Forests Program

This blog shares lessons learned from the identification, recognition, and assessment of local gender roles, functions, and contributions, during the activities of the Andean Forests Programme.
Multiple Authors
Focus group with Andean women in Apurímac (Perú)

The following article presents insights and learning from the SDC-funded Andean Forest Programme.


The purpose of the Andean Forests Programme (PBA) is that the “Andean population living in and around the Andean forests reduce their vulnerability to climate change and receive social, economic and environmental benefits from Andean forests conservation.” To achieve this, the Programme included the implementation of a variety of actions at the local, territorial, national and regional scales, including studies to deepen the understanding of socio-ecological dynamics and components of Andean forests, the promotion of conservation and management of Andean forests and ecosystems, among others. Activities at the national and regional scales were focused on inter-institutional work with different organizations and government entities, while activities at the local and territorial scale had a special emphasis on three learning sites in Peru (Apurímac), Ecuador (Pichincha), and Colombia (Antioquia). It is estimated that more than 4000 women have benefited from PBA Phase I activities through training and implementation of good forest management practices. Likewise, there has been active participation of women in research, governance spaces, and decision-making.

Gender equality has been a cross-cutting dimension when designing and implementing PBA activities on the learning sites, looking for its consolidation as a structural principle for further territorial initiatives.

This blog aims to share reflections and lessons learned arose from the identification, recognition, and assessment of local gender roles, functions, and contributions, during the Programme activities, as well as from different types of knowledge involved in Andean forests management and climate change adaptation.


This article is based on a literature review of gender-sensitive information collected by PBA during both phases and published in several technical reports (cited through the text). Additionally, this article contains the systematization of 22 analytical interviews carried out in mid-2020 by specialists of PBA with representatives of local partners and stakeholders in the learning sites.

The research “Identifying Gender-Sensitive Agroforestry Options: Methodological Considerations from the Field“, carried out in three local communities in the Apurímac site, applied an inclusive methodology that, among others, analysed in-depth the contribution of men and women to family livelihoods and economic activities, and their participation in decision-making spaces. The perception and assessment that each gender has of their biophysical and socioeconomic context were also evaluated, including agroforestry practices, the use of forest species, and adaptation strategies to climate change vulnerability. Similarly, the documents “Strengthening of Productive Chains in Andean Forest Landscapes: Synthesis of Lessons Learned” and “Methodological Guidelines for the Restoration of the Andean Forest Landscape”, analyse in-depth experiences of management and sustainable use of Andean forests, mainly promoted by PBA, and reflect on the knowledge, skills, and roles that Andean men and women have for agriculture, livelihoods and adaptation to climate change, also providing recommendations towards gender equality and women empowerment.

Reflections From the Andean Forests Program

The role of Andean women in family livelihoods

One of the most frequent observations in these studies, which was reaffirmed in the interviews carried out at the Apurímac site, is that gender roles in production and conservation activities have a strong relationship with the traditional organization of the family at home. For example, in agroforestry, forestry, and landscape restoration work at the Apurímac site, it was appreciated that the distribution of work is related to the physical effort which is required and also to the valuation and identification that gender groups have with some activities. Thus, women play a key role in the production of seedlings, the construction of q’ochas (artificial wetlands), cattle raising, firewood collection, seed management, planting, post-harvest management, and sales. On the other hand, men are in charge of the transportation of seedlings, tools, and supplies, soil management, house construction, toolmaking, harvest and product transport (PBA, 2019 b; Mathez-Stiefel, 2016). The analysis of the beekeeping production chain in the Saywite-Choquequirao-Ampay Community shows similar findings since it was found that women have a larger presence in activities demanding less strength but more fine skills and precision, such as caring for hives, honey extraction, handling, and storage, as well as individual sales at local fairs and markets (PBA, 2019 a).

This differentiated assignment of tasks is reflected in the knowledge and valuation of each gender group on natural resources. For example, it was found that men are more knowledgeable and recognize the value of direct use of species (e.g. food provision and sales), while women highlight and value diverse aspects of forest species such as food, fuel, handicrafts, fodder, fences, aesthetic values, among others. It was found also that both genders value the ecological benefits of agroforestry and restoration practices in the same way, and that older people of both genders transmit their practices and knowledge about the environment from generation to generation (PBA, 2019 b; Mathez-Stiefel, 2016).

“Women and adults are wise, they are the living memory of the community, and if that knowledge is not taken into account, is lost. There is a long way to go, parents should teach (their children) from much earlier ages. If they do not transmit the knowledge, who will teach them later? This is the future of this ancient knowledge. The Andean world is in this way, the world of midwives, and it is being lost.” – Augusto Ramírez, Center for Social Studies and Development (CEDES)

At the Pichincha site, PBA supported activities on sustainable cattle raising and farm production, and food processing. According to the specialists, this site also replicates the traditional division of gender roles (PBA, 2019 a). However, some innovative initiatives to foster the potential of these gender roles were implemented, based on the premise that women are involved in fine tasks of transformation and added value. For example, the MashpiLAB gastronomic project was implemented, using conventional and unconventional ingredients from the Chocó Andino territory to highlight the gastronomic wealth of the area, in which women were especially involved. A similar case is the Yunguilla Corporation, which produces organic fruits in greenhouses, do cattle raising and ecotourism, and although there are no clear gender-differentiated tasks, the participation of women was promoted in the elaboration and commercialization of products with added value such as jams and cheeses, as well as in tourists attention, the elaboration of handicrafts, and raising awareness activities at the community level (PBA, 2019 a).

In the case of the Antioquia site, the experience of implementing the BanCO2 compensation scheme for environmental services is innovative in the region, since the compensation received is invested in production and conservation activities. One of the most striking characteristics of this scheme is that it implies the development and monitoring of an Investment Plan per each beneficiary family, involving the participation of men, women, and young people. The analysis of the experience identified a certain degree of specialization of tasks, with men focused on activities requiring physical effort, and women focused on the elaboration of products with added value. However, equitable gender participation was observed in the organization, decision-making, and technical and financial planning, observed during the development of the Investment Plans (PBA, 2019 a). Likewise, participatory planning made it possible that economic benefits generated by the scheme were used to meet the needs of the various gender and age groups, according to the reality and decisions of each family, since in many cases the money is allocated to support the studies of children or grandchildren, meet the health requirements of the elderly (e.g. medicines, tests), family nutrition, among others. The testimonies show that the leadership of women in this experience is notorious and recognized, and even more, the communities themselves propose women as the person who receives compensation payments since they consider that “women are the most judicious and many times they are the head of the family”. It is pointed out that the war and conflict history of the country and the territory has resulted in many female heads of the family, due to the fact that the violence resulted in the absence of spouses.

Participation of women in organizational, political and academic life

The various analyses and reflections of key actors participating in PBA, made it possible to determine that the role of women in decision-making in the three learning sites has been increasing, although a situation of parity has not yet been reached (Sartori and Kometter, 2020).

The specialists of the Apurímac site appreciate higher and less shy participation of women in the communal assemblies compared to previous years and observe that their role is currently more valued, with communal women leaders who stand out for their participation and legitimacy, and who represent other women in their community. However, despite the fact that women participate more, hold managerial positions in committees, and have active participation in different initiatives, until now there are no known cases of appointments of women as community presidents, and their formal participation (appointments) in organizations with respect to men is not even equitable in number nor in roles.

Specialists from the Pichincha site point out that women participation in the territorial organization and in decision-making is especially noticeable among younger people (e.g. the Chocó Andino Youth Network). This has been reflected in their leading roles in political, research and planning processes, which has earned them a very important space in society. The participation of women in the organization and management of the health emergency of 2020 due to COVID-19 has been especially important and evident, but it is also noted that the current context has generated additional burdens for them since women are often responsible for family economy and childcare.

“In emergency management, the majority of people involved in operational planning have been women. It will be interesting to analyse how their participation was, but obviously there is a criterion based on the type of activity that is being promoted, such as food security. It is still necessary to break certain limitations that exist in each territory, more specific, which have to be evaluated in the long term.” – Geovanna Lasso, CONDESAN

The Steering Committee of the Pact for the Forests of Antioquia is mainly female. This initiative, to which a large number of institutions and companies of the region are linked, aims to promote the conservation and protection of forests, the promotion of sustainable productive dynamics and the inclusion of these forests in public policies as vital ecosystems for the development of life.

Workshop with Andean women in Apurímac (Perú). Credit: Sarah-Lan Mathez Stiefel

Women in research and knowledge management

Concerning research and knowledge management, there is a more harmonious gender parity situation in the three learning sites, because a large part of the research teams is made up and led by women. This is more visible in the Antioquia site, with a major participation of women in the academic initiatives of the Medellín Botanical Garden and the Antioquia Forest Observatory. Recently, the seminar “Seeds of Science: Women for the conservation of the Forests of Antioquia” shared life stories, reflections and purposes regarding the role of women in research and conservation of biodiversity and forests in Antioquia, and the challenges and empowerment strategies from academia, governments, and civil society.

PBA shared these reflections and lessons learned during the webinar “The role of women in the management of mountain forests: a view from the rural and urban areas”, held on September 23, 2020.

Final Thoughts

The gender approach in the activities supported and analysed by PBA is not explicit. However, the various analyses have made it possible to identify differentiated roles, interests, and knowledge of men and women. These arise from the traditional division of tasks, but also can emerge and consolidate with the strengthening of productive chains, and the adoption of sustainable practices and adaptation measures. Likewise, the path has been started to foster the participation of women in decision-making at the family, community, and production level.

Important knowledge gaps remain for comprehensive gender analysis.

  • For example, the collection of information regarding the distribution of economic and non-economic benefits of Andean forests and ecosystems and the productive chains associated with them has not been deepened.
  • It is also necessary to integrate information regarding the compatibility and balance between the productive, organizational, and political roles of men and women, with their non-productive roles (e.g. family life and care, home care, cultural activities), and how this affects or promotes access to opportunities for everyone.
  • Other factors such as domestic violence, access to formal and non-formal education, land tenure, access to financing, and socio-political structure, should not be excluded from the analysis either.

To advance towards gender equity, it is important to identify and make visible the lessons learned from the different experiences developed in Andean forests and ecosystems. The identification of roles and knowledge is the first step, and their results need to be incorporated into capacity building initiatives, activity planning, strategical planning, resource allocation, and benefit distribution.

In this regard, some strategies suggested are:

  • raising awareness,
  • provide technical assistance to the roles and interests of women,
  • motivational activities and strengthening of leadership capacities,
  • the definition of minimum participation quotas,
  • design of activities adapted to the living conditions of women (e.g. considering time, spaces, schedules, graphic materials for the non-literate population),
  • strengthening of productive infrastructure for transformation and added value,
  • development of technology transfer processes that involve women,
  • and financial mechanisms adapted to the reality of women (PBA, 2019 b).

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