Are women reservoirs of traditional plant knowledge? Gender, ethnobotany and globalization in northeast Brazil


Robert A. Voeks (email:


This study examines the degree to which knowledge of traditional plant medicine is gendered among communities settled near Chapada Diamantina National Park in eastern Bahia state, northeast Brazil. Employing a quantitative analysis of a sample plant pharmacopoeia, I focus on the relationship between gender, age and the socioeconomic impacts of globalization in this tropical region. Results indicate that women are more familiar with both the field identities and the medicinal values of the local flora than are men. This division is pronounced among older participants (30–80 years) who represent a reservoir of medicinal plant knowledge that is in danger of disappearing. I suggest that this heightened understanding among women is due to historical gender divisions of space and labour; the inherently high potential for medicinal plant identification and collection in anthropogenic habitats; and the role of women as primary healthcare givers for the family.