The Major Importance of ‘Minor’ Resources: Women and plant biodiversity
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 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 plants 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. Steps needed include: prioritising the conservation of plants that are important to women curators and reversing dynamics that lead to their erosion; recognising, and promoting the inter-generational transmission of women’s traditional knowledge; recognising indigenous rights systems and women’s rights to plants and land resources within these; and ensuring women’s full participation in decisions and policies that affect their plant rights.