Gender and Local Knowledge

© Menuka Scetbon-Didi
Mayangna woman, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve (Nicaragua)

UNESCO promotes the key role of women as holders of local and indigenous knowledge and as agents of change and community cohesion at the local level. More particularly, UNESCO highlights women’s transmission, preservation and elaboration of local knowledge related to sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity and climate change. Indeed, women are frequently the primary managers or collectors of natural resources such as drinking water, fuel or small agroforestry plots, medicinal plants and the primary holders of knowledge concerning such resources.

For example, a workshop held in Guatemala City in January 2015 with indigenous women from Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama encouraged women to present their community-based projects that seek to generate income while sustainably managing pollinator species and the biodiversity that sustains them. This workshop, organized within the framework of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment on pollination and pollinators associated with food production, gave the women who participated the opportunity to exchange ideas on how to support transmission of their indigenous knowledge and use it to address contemporary development challenges.

  • Full workshop report (pending)

Moreover, in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), UNESCO’s efforts to assess, monitor and manage coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass beds focuses upon the knowledge possessed by women, who are the main users of these near-shore marine habitats.

Key publications

Women’s Knowledge: Traditional Medicine and Nature (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues)
UNESCO, 2011

The Islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues have their own unique medical traditions. These medical traditions have emerged from multiple origins through a process of creolization, but they are also closely tied to the natural world in which they have adapted and evolved. Therefore, they provide a key to understanding the wider societies, which are engaged in a constant dialectic between tradition and modernity.

This book brings to our attention the knowledge of medicinal plants and medical practices of the women of these islands, with special focus on childbirth. It also considers the place of medicinal knowledge within these evolving societies which are actively confronting the threats and opportunities that globalization poses to local identities.

Traditional Medicine of the Indian Ocean: Health and Community in Island States (pdf)
UNESCO, 2015

This book is part of a wider project involving traditional medical practitioners of the Indian Ocean SIDS and Madagascar. UNESCO is supporting traditional practitioners to come together to identify their priorities and is building their capacities in order to help them effectively address those priorities. For instance, in the Comoros, UNESCO is supporting women traditional practitioners to valorize their practice in partnership with health authorities.

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