Context: One of the controversial topics in the
international intellectual property (IIP) regime is the issue of Traditional
Knowledge (TK). Despite the existence of several international instruments, the
status of legal protection for this kind of knowledge is still unclear.
Although the questions of traditional knowledge
and how to protect it have grown into their own subset of IP scholarship but it
is still an area where gender has remained remarkably invisible. Therefore,
this research addresses the issue of TK protection from a feminist perspective;
In many places, women are deemed to be the most important practitioners and
custodians of TK, with many cultural traditions being passed primarily or
exclusively from one generation of women to the next.
Questions: In order to narrow the
scope of research and to ensure the accuracy of research results, two specific representations
are chosen for the purpose of this analysis: Iranian saffron and carpets, where
the active presence of women in the process of the TK-based productions
provides a good opportunity to evaluate research claims about the gendered
nature of the existing IP regime and its tendency to undervalue women’s
contributions and feminine forms of creativity. Drawing on these case studies,
this research examines the following questions:
Do women hold different TK from men? If so, to what extent and in which
circumstances are women the main TK performers?
What would be an optimal gender-inclusive TK regime (i.e., a regime that
recognizes women’s contribution to TK) and to what extent are the ongoing
developments under the auspices of WIPO heading towards that?
Framework: The validity of the research results will be
explored through an examination of the critiques and insights drawn from
feminist theories. By investigating the ways feminists theorize about the
construction of knowledge, new insights into how IP law has been developed upon
gendered assumptions become apparent.
Informed by theoretical notions such as
feminist epistemology, feminist dualism, invisible work and, I argue that
women’s traditional knowledge (i.e., TK held and practiced by women in various
subsets of TK) is a knowledge category that is doubly gendered – via both the
gendered philosophical associations with traditional knowledge and the gender
of its holders – and thus doubly devalued.
Methodology: This research is located under the empirical
studies category and my approach is qualitative. Accordingly, my data collection was a combination
of direct observations and in-depth contextual interviews. Pursuant to receiving the ethical clearance
certificate from the University of Ottawa’s Research Ethics Board, in order to
reach to my interview subjects, I traveled to one of the main centers for each
of the saffron and carpet production in Iran. I spent 10 days in Kashan, one of
the well-known cities for hand-knotted carpet production, and conducted in-depth
interviews with 15 women in various carpet-weaving workshops to document the
traditional practices that can be qualified as TK.
traveled to Bidvey one of the rural areas of Khorasan Province that is famous
for saffron production. I resided in the village for more than one week during
the saffron harvesting season and visited the saffron farms and interviewed 15 rural
women in order to identify their role and the special techniques that they use
in saffron processing.
and Originality of Research: The literature review conducted for this
proposal found that gender analyses of TK and case studies setting out women’s
roles in TK are limited and virtually nonexistent in IP literature. By
undertaking these two case studies from two substantively different sectors,
the research aims at contributing to this area. This lack of scholarship means
that the gender dimensions of TK are not well understood, thus the risk of
designing IP strategies and frameworks that are not informed by the ongoing
realties in this area is high.
This research addresses the urgent need that those designing new traditional
knowledge policies need to pay explicit attention to how women are likely to be
able to use any new regulatory system to ensure that they are not
disenfranchised and that they do not lose agency over their traditional
knowledge. Simply put, these are not issues that can be resolved later after
all the presumed technical niceties have been worked out. Rather, they need to
be addressed in the initial stages of law-making and policy formulation.