The Centre for Law, Technology and Society is delighted to announce that on January 27, 2021, Ghazaleh Jerban successfully defended her PhD in Law thesis titled, “Does Traditional Knowledge Have Gender? Unmasking the Experience of Female Traditional Knowledge-Holders in the Production of Iranian Saffron and Handwoven Carpets”, and written under the supervision of CLTS Faculty member Professor Elizabeth Judge.
Ghazaleh Jerban’s dissertation examines the issue of legal protection for traditional knowledge from a gender perspective. She has done several qualitative studies examining indigenous and local women’s role in the traditional knowledge system and whether it should be addressed in intellectual property law and policy. In 2019, her policy brief won the award for the International Policy Ideas Challenge (IPIC 2019) organized by Global Affairs Canada and SSHRC.
Ghazaleh Jerban has completed various fellowships and internships at United Nations, think tanks, governmental bodies, NGOs, and academic institutes. Her most recent fellowship was with the Open Air network as part of her Queen Elizabeth II Advanced Scholar Award with the Centre for Law, Technology and Society.
Beyond her supervisor, Dr. Ghazaleh Jerban’s doctoral defence committee consisted of CLTS Faculty member Professor Chidi Oguamanam, Professor Bita Amani (Queen’s University), Professor Penelope Simons, Professor Angela Cameron, and Professor Craig Forcese (chair).
One of the key international policy challenges in the intellectual property (IP) regime is the issue of traditional knowledge (TK) protection. TK has a bearing on debates around biodiversity, food, agriculture, health, expressions of folklore, trade and development, and human rights. In the policy and academic debates around TK protection, a critical gender perspective is often underdeveloped. Guided by feminist legal methodology, an approach founded on women’s experience of exclusion, and using two feminist methods of gender impact assessment and qualitative interviews, the thesis makes a case for mainstreaming gender in TK law and policy.
In most Indigenous and local communities around the world, women play a significant role in the generation, transmission, and use of TK. There are different contributions by Indigenous and local women to the TK system, and there is also a differential impact of TK misappropriation on these women. Critical evidence to support the importance of gender as an influential factor in TK protection is based on an in-depth examination of two case studies, namely Persian hand-woven carpets and saffron. My fieldwork in Kashan, “the city of handwoven carpets”, and Khorasan, “the province of saffron” enabled me to examine the role of Iranian local women and their TK in handwoven carpet and saffron production. Iran is the undisputed centre of saffron production, where the tradition dates back over 3,000 years. The superiority of Iranian saffron comes not only from the climatic conditions but also the rich heritage of TK in growing and processing the crop with Iranian local women as the main performers in different stages of saffron production. Persian hand-woven carpet as an icon of Iranian culture, dating back about 2000 years, is another illuminating example of products in which women and their TK play a major role.
From carpet weaving workshops to saffron farms, I found one common theme: the invisibility of women’s TK that is taken for granted while it is the very basis of production. Lack of proper attention to women’s TK in these sectors and its potential for women’s empowerment, has led to many local women and most of the younger generation losing their interest in carpet weaving and saffron production, which in the long run can put the TK in danger of becoming forgotten. Moreover, with the rural out-migration due to lack of employment opportunities, the knowledge of the older generations in handwoven carpet and saffron production is often no longer passed on to the younger generation. Therefore, if women’s TK is to remain alive and deliver its potential for empowering Indigenous and local women, which indeed should be among the main objectives of any TK instrument, these women should be incentivized through gender-responsive TK law and policy to continue practising their TK.
Building on the fieldwork results, this research reconceptualizes the TK issue as a gender issue to which TK law and policy fora should respond with gender-sensitive instruments, implementation plans, and adequate resources. The objective of the research is to call for and contribute to a policy change in the realm of TK by translating fieldwork insights (as knowledge-based gender advocacy) into policy recommendations for a gender-responsive alternative approach to TK laws and policy. More specifically, the thesis provides recommendations for gender mainstreaming in both the process of crafting and the contents of legal modalities for TK protection.