Contributed by Isabel Díaz Reviriego

In June 2014, along with other colleges from the Ethnoecology Lab at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), I had the fortune to attend the ISE congress in Bhutan. Bhutan, the country of Gross National Happiness, warmly welcomed us. We learned, we danced, and we enjoyed spicy Bhutanese food and its amazing culture and landscapes, thanks to all of the organizers and local people. The outstanding conference venue and program, which combined academic debates and poster presentations with storytelling, walks in the woods, meditation, and a biocultural fair and film festival, made the event a very inspiring and stimulating experience both personally and professionally.

UAB Ethonecology Lab members in Bhutan (Photo by Álvaro Fernández-llamazares)

My poster contribution was just a small attempt to design and implement a more gender-balanced approach to research. My research, among the Tsimane’ people from lowland Bolivian Amazonia, aims at studying gendered ethonomedicinal plant knowledge, recognizing the diversity and plurality of knowledge present within communities. Results suggest that, among the Tsimane’, women hold more ethnomedicinal knowledge than men, which is associated with their specialized reproductive and pediatric roles that reflect their prominent involvement in caregiving and custodians of health in Tsimane’ society.

Gender blindness has often led researchers to neglect the gendered nature of knowledge in ethnobiological research. Furthermore, ethnobiological research should recognize that the study of gendered knowledge and relations also includes the multiplicity and intersection of gender identities with other identities (e.g. caste, class, religion) and how these shape the acquisition, transmission, and distribution of ethnobiological knowledge.

Results from my research are also relevant for informing policy-makers at local and national levels in Bolivia, in order to promote the participation of indigenous women in the design and implementation of policies regarding women’s health and indigenous health sovereignty. For example, since 2002, the “Universal Mother and Child Insurance Scheme” (Seguro Universal Materno Infantil, SUMI) has focused on improving maternal and child health to reduce maternal, neonatal and child mortality. It is a package of free services intended to improve equality in the access to obstetric care, recognizing diversity in intercultural sexual and reproductive health among indigenous and peasant peoples in Bolivia. The intercultural health component of this program considers the adaptation of services to include the use of traditional medicine and healing practices.

In this context, the knowledge, practices, and beliefs of Tsimane’ women with regard to reproductive health should be taken into account at a local level. As traditional medicinal specialists with midwifing expertise, their active participation in the design and delivery of intercultural health services should be encouraged. Recognizing women’s knowledge and expertise can help to promote equity and social justice from a biocultural perspective.

See her poster here Poster_Isabel