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Gender dimensions of intellectual property and traditional medicinal knowledge

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H. Gibb
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Trade in medicinal and aromatic plants is big business. How can Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protect female practitioners of Traditional Medicinal Knowledge (TMK)? Although IPRs may, under certain circumstances, assist traditional medicine holders, they are limited in the extent to which they can protect indigenous collective TMK systems and women, who play important roles as custodians of such knowledge, and producers and consumers of traditional medicines. Herbal medicines often fail to meet all the requirements for conventional IPR patent protection, as plant materials are not eligible, production methods are not innovative enough, and the patent rights are too expensive to acquire and enforce. As TMK resources become more commercially valuable, individuals may have more incentive to cheat community-based institutions, businesses may choose to over-exploit and permanently deplete resources, and communities may under-value the heritage value of indigenous knowledge. Herbal remedies may also become unaffordable to people living in poverty. Trade development and promotion policies and strategies need to address persisting gender-based barriers (to inheritance and property) that constrain women from gaining income from TMK, and recognise as legitimate stakeholders in policy dialogues. The paper suggests using rights-based approaches to promoting TK on public health priority lists by pressuring World Trade Organisation (WTO) members to adhere to their Doha obligations to promote ?public Health and - access to medicines for all?.

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