Madang’s rugged and verdantly forested landscape, which holds some of the country’s highest peaks, makes it one of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) most striking provinces. This geographic diversity is mirrored by its indigenous cultures and languages; over 170 of PNG’s 800 languages are found in this Province alone. For rural communities, the forests are a cornerstone for local livelihoods and women play a prominent role in the harvesting of forest products.
Despite this, women have very little say in how these forests are governed. Decision-making within the villages of Madang province is typically undertaken by male clan leaders or a village council, but it is often a chief who makes the final decision. In many villages, women are not even able to participate in discussions around land-use. As PNG is a large and varied country, in the island province of East New Britain the story is slightly different. Matrilineal systems of land ownership mean that women are consulted by clan elders. However, even here women are not fully included in important discussions and are hampered by a lack of confidence to join deliberations on par with their male counterparts.
The complexity and variance of social and cultural systems in PNG are considerable, but women are largely marginalized from participating in decisions that impact them. In PNG, 97% of the total land area is classified as customary and, given existing customary law and cultural barriers, women have very limited rights or abilities to control income and other resources. Even in some matrilineal societies where ownership of land is passed down to the woman, men still commandeer leadership in the management of land. In order to overcome these limitations, deliberate efforts were made by UNDP through the UN-REDD Programme, to incorporate a gender perspective into the development of PNG’s approach to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
FPIC, a key component of effective stakeholder engagement, is a legal principle enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It provides the right for indigenous peoples, regardless of their gender, to be consulted and to give or withhold their prior consent for actions that may impact their lands, resources or livelihoods. To ensure that consent is given freely without coercion and that communities are accurately informed on all aspects of a decision, clear and culturally specific steps must be taken to consult with communities through their traditional decision-making bodies.
In the case of PNG, where women are confined to the outskirts of power, there is the sticky question of how they can be included authentically in any FPIC process around REDD+. With important decisions in the balance, such as how forest areas will be managed and how benefits generated by any REDD+ mechanism should be distributed, it is imperative that women are consulted and able to give or withhold their consent to activities that will impact them. It was, therefore, crucial to put gender at the heart of the way FPIC was understood and supported as part of REDD+ efforts. In response to this, gender concerns were integrated into national FPIC guidance for REDD+. This included integrating gender considerations into its operational framework and recognizing both women and men as possible landowners and/or primary users of land and resources. The FPIC guidance provided advice on how to maintain a gender balance in the facilitation teams that will guide FPIC at the local level and to disaggregate stakeholders by gender throughout the FPIC process. The guidance has also emphasized that any grievance mechanisms aimed at handling complaints should be specifically accessible to women.
The varying experiences of women in different provinces surfaced the further challenge of tailoring these national guidelines to local contexts and needs. UNDP oversaw the development of a detailed stakeholder study of the three REDD+ pilot sites of Madang, East New Britain and West New Britain, which was carried out to guide action on the ground. In order to fully understand women’s perspectives, gender and youth segregated focus workshops were conducted across 6 rural communities in each province. Among others, the study examined gender dynamics, finding that women were largely excluded from roles in decision making. Even in East New Britain, where women had matrilineal land rights and greater involvement in village-level discussions, their views tended to be overlooked and they were often simply informed of final decisions. The study provided a foundation for local strategies for consulting with communities and integrating FPIC protocols into these that would be sensitive to including women. This included promoting the inclusion of village women in decision making as part of land-use planning approaches.
The study revealed the striking difference in women’s perspectives and the way their priorities differed to those of men. The women in all three provinces were particularly concerned about the environment and the negative impacts of logging. The findings demonstrated that raising women’s voices in the REDD+ process through careful attention to their inclusion is not only a moral issue, but a practical one as well as it can aid in the protection and conservation of forests. From the arresting volcanic islands that hug the coastline of Madang to the forests that meet the coral reef-rich shores of New Britain, the women of the country must have a say and be included in how their forests are managed. PNG’s thoughtful approach to pushing gender equality to the forefront of the FPIC process and stakeholder engagement actions illuminate how this lofty goal can be achieved.
 Officially defined as “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks”, REDD+ incentivizes developing countries to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Acknowledgements: This knowledge product was coordinated, written and edited from UNDP Climate and Forests Team: Celina (Kin Yii) Yong, Elizabeth Eggerts and Ela Ionescu
Originally published in the Gender Equality Newsletter Vol. 4