Gender Bias Affects Forests Worldwide

  • Marlène Elias Bioversity International, Rome.
  • Susan S Hummel USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon.
  • Bimbika S Basnett Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor.
  • Carol J.P. Colfer 4Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Keywords: Gender bias, Governance, Tenure, Gendered spaces, Division of labor, Ecological knowledge


Gender biases persist in forestry research and practice. These biases result in reduced scientific rigor and inequitable, ineffective, and less efficient policies, programs, and interventions. Drawing from a two-volume collection of current and classic analyses on gender in forests, we outline five persistent and inter-related themes: gendered governance, tree tenure, forest spaces, division of labor, and ecological knowledge. Each emerges across geographic regions in the northern and southern hemisphere and reflects inequities in women’s and men’s ability to make decisions about and benefit from trees, forests, and their products. Women’s ability to participate in community-based forest governance is typically less than men’s, causing concern for social equity and forest stewardship. Women’s access to trees and their products is commonly more limited than men’s, and mediated by their relationship with their male counterparts. Spatial patterns of forest use reflect gender norms and taboos, and men’s greater access to transportation. The division of labor results in gender specialization in the collection of forest products, with variations in gender roles across regions. All these gender differences result in ecological knowledge that is distinct but also complementary and shifting across the genders. The ways gender plays out in relation to each theme may vary across cultures and contexts, but the influence of gender, which intersects with other factors of social differentiation in shaping forest landscapes, is global.

Author Biographies

Marlène Elias, Bioversity International, Rome.

Marlène Elias is a human geographer whose research focuses on gender, local ecological knowledge, and forest management from a feminist political ecology perspective.

Susan S Hummel, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon.

Susan Stevens Hummel is an ecologist with interests in transdisciplinary research that expands the knowledge and practice of silviculture.

Bimbika S Basnett, Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor.

Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a Social Scientist/Gender Coordinator at the Center for International Forestry Research, is interested in a wide range of gender issues pertaining to transformation of rural and forested landscapes in the global south.

Carol J.P. Colfer, 4Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer is a cultural anthropologist with interests in gender, health, governance/management, and social equity in forests, globally.


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How to Cite
Elias, M., Hummel, S. S., Basnett, B. S., & Colfer, C. J. (2017). Gender Bias Affects Forests Worldwide. Ethnobiology Letters, 8(1), 31–34.
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