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1 February 2004 Advancing the Mountain Women's Agenda: From Research to Action
Anita Anand, Phuntshok Tshering
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The International Year of Mountains (IYM 2002) gave a powerful impetus to focus on the needs and experiences of mountain peoples and the challenges they face. Mountain women—over 50% of the population—had the opportunity to raise their voice in one international gathering, Celebrating Mountain Women (CMW), hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and held in Paro, Bhutan in October 2002 (see report in MRD 22.4). The goal of CMW was to bring together women and men who were mountain people and/or worked on and around mountain issues, individually and as representatives of institutions, and prepare the Thimphu Declaration that was presented at the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit (BGMS) in November 2002. CMW participants explored 5 major themes: natural resources and environment; entrepreneurship; health and well-being; political, legal, and human rights; culture and indigenous knowledge.

These themes were discussed within the frameworks of policy, practice and research, in order to bring out relevant issues, gaps and best practices, and identify the way forward. Several products of the conference are now available, among which are a conference report, conference briefs, a resource kit and a film. The following summary gives a brief insight, showing where important potentials and gaps need to be addressed.

Thematic links and commonalties

CMW revealed how intrinsically linked the 5 lead themes are, thus showing the need for further integrated research. Moreover, discussions showed strong commonalties: in any part of the world, the same problems affect mountain areas and peoples, with differences mainly in degree. Be it globalization, migration, tourism, policies, laws, technologies, discrimination by age, gender, religion, caste, class, or lack of a peaceful environment: no mountain area is immune to change. Mountain communities'—including mountain women's—capacity and opportunities to shape change should be respected and enhanced. Among the main needs identified were the following.


Policies taking into consideration the changing environment in mountains are seriously lacking. There is also a lack of awareness that indigenous peoples in mountain areas and plain areas need different policies. Moreover, it is necessary to take into account how policies affect women and men, both as separate and linked groups, and to analyze where policies are obstacles to mountain women moving forward, particularly in the fields of health, education and economics. Finally, it is essential that mountain people be more involved in policy making processes.


Most research is not disaggregated, leading to incomplete conclusions: almost all available data reflect national scenarios and do not offer mountain-specific information. Moreover, research done on mountain issues is rarely gender-sensitive. When it focuses on women and their activities, it does not take into consideration the complexity of the environment that women live in, including their male counterparts and the resulting gender relations.

Sustainable tourism

Tourism has become a major income generator for most nations, with mountain areas as a very valuable asset. Besides being sustainable, tourism plans and projects also need to ensure that women and their needs are incorporated into these plans. Additionally, women should be preferentially considered in all aspects of tourism—as initiators and entrepreneurs, as beneficiaries of plans, in designing and implementation of projects, training, networking, awareness raising, etc.

Conservation vs. livelihoods

While environmentalists and policy makers must give prime importance to conserving the environment, it is equally important to ensure sustainable livelihoods for current and future generations of mountain people, both men and women. Much controversy around conservation measures arises because those directly affected are not consulted, often due to a fear that if people were to be in the know about proposed changes, they would oppose them. But this is not always so. Healthy and more inclusive dialogue needs to be actively promoted to explore alternative livelihood options that could result from national and international conservation efforts. In doing so the rights and well-being of mountain peoples must be respected.

Traditional vs. statutory laws

The traditional and the modern need to co-exist in a non-conflicting way: ignoring one can be a problem for the other. Many mountain communities function according to traditional and customary laws that either benefit or disadvantage women. The same is true for statutory laws. In most areas, women do not have legal community and private property rights, which prevents their equal participation in many economic opportunities and leads to systematic disempowerment. Documenting predominantly patriarchal laws, making them publicly available, and debating their merits and demerits will result in greater understanding and better negotiation and adaptation of these laws.

Decision making

CMW revealed that even in so-called matrilineal mountain communities, women still play subordinate roles and continue to be excluded from apex decision making bodies. Elsewhere and more generally, women are either absent in decision making structures or grossly under-represented, although their participation is essential for sustainable development. From reservations and quotas to meaningful awareness raising, training, and participation, all strategies should be considered to strengthen women's role and participation.

Privatization of resources

Most resources in mountain areas used to be held communally. With increasing privatization and commercial development, local communities are losing control over their resources. It is critical for new arrangements to be based on consultation, to take into account the interests of individuals, families and communities. Privatization is not entirely negative but analysis is required to see where and how it can benefit local communities and women, in order to increase gender-balanced local negotiation capacity and ensure that women's needs and concerns have been given adequate attention and priority.


FAO underlined in 1999 that 23 out of 27 conflicts in the world were located in mountain areas. Many of these areas continue to be plagued by armed conflicts that make it difficult for sustainable development efforts to be implemented and make a difference in the lives of mountain peoples. Men and young boys leave the mountains in search of other economic opportunities or to join armed forces, leaving women to sustain their families. Moreover, the elderly, women and children also often fall prey to retaliation, rape and other forms of violence during armed conflicts in remote mountain areas. The international community and national governments urgently need to make special efforts to ensure peace and security in these areas. Women's perspectives are essential and must be heard to make efforts worthwhile.

Integration of traditional and modern practices

Traditional mountain communities are repositories of knowledge adapted to their harsh environment, eg, on food preservation, survival in remote areas and harsh climates, health strategies, taking care of animals, etc. This oral form of knowledge needs to be documented to prevent its loss. Moreover, research is required to see how this knowledge can be made relevant to the present.

Encourage private enterprise

Women are important partners in private enterprise and need to be included in development of new initiatives, given a chance to participate in decision making, and considered for leadership positions. Moreover, incentives could be given to private companies from the lowlands to preferentially involve women when they develop activities in mountain areas.


Men and young people leaving mountain areas in search of income in the lowlands and urban areas are a major issue. Sustainable mountain development initiatives must therefore be in a position to offer attractive economic alternatives and stop excessive outmigration. Awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of migration is important for mountain peoples. Among the pitfalls are exposure to AIDS and other emerging epidemics, increased physical and mental burdens on mountain women, and loss of their independence. Societal subordination, discrimination against women, and extreme poverty are issues to be addressed in relation to another, pernicious form of migration that occurs in several mountain regions worldwide: trafficking of women and girls.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs)

ICTs can empower mountain women. Radio, television, print media or Internet can help collect data and exchange information. Previously the world came into the mountains; ICTs can enable a two-way traffic—with mountain people generating their own information and broadcasting it among themselves and out into the world.

Alliances between various stakeholders

Donors, UN agencies, governments, research institutions, NGOs, policy makers, women's organizations and media representatives should coordinate their often isolated activities to avoid working at cross-purposes and benefit from one another's experience. To this purpose, CMW proposed that a Global Mountain Women's Partnership (GMWP) be launched within the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD 2002) framework of the International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (IPSDMR).

Raising awareness

Many development efforts fail to reach women because awareness of their roles, responsibilities and needs is lacking. This is partly due to lack of platforms, forums and an environment in which women can speak out. Where such platforms exist, the media can assist by giving more coverage of these issues and the advances that mountain communities are making. School curricula also need to include gender-specific information and underline the benefits of gender-balanced activities.

ICIMOD is committed to continuing providing a much-needed platform for mountain women, especially with the Global Mountain Women's Partnership (GMWP), which ICIMOD conceived as a follow-up mechanism. The GMWP was endorsed by mountain women at CMW 2002, and ICIMOD launched it at the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit in November 2002. ICIMOD is hopeful that all players in the development field will listen to and respect the “Voices” of mountain women, and support its endeavor to advance the mountain women's agenda. Further information on CMW is available at, where CMW products are listed for downloading or ordering.

Anita Anand and Phuntshok Tshering "Advancing the Mountain Women's Agenda: From Research to Action," Mountain Research and Development 24(1), 86-87, (1 February 2004).[0086:ATMWAF]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 February 2004
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