Participatory research on forests has been commended for fostering social learning, innovation, community empowerment, social inclusion, and leading to more sustainable resource management. Yet, critiques of participatory approaches – and of the simplistic ways they are, at times, employed to address gender and social exclusion – also abound. These call for new strategies to meaningfully engage socially differentiated men and women in research on natural resource management. This special issue focuses on the nexus between gender and participatory research in forest and woodland management. It examines: (1) the diversity of stakeholders’ forest-related knowledge, skills, needs and priorities in forest-dependent communities through the use of gender-responsive participatory approaches, and (2) choices in research design that can foster inclusive participation, knowledge sharing and social learning within and among social groups. In this introductory paper, we position the special issue in relation to critiques regarding the lack of attention to gender in participatory research. We then summarize the authors empirical findings, contextually rooted across four African and Asian countries, and their importance for understanding the value, opportunities and challenges of working with participatory methods, both from the perspective of the researchers and of the research participants. The papers illustrate that traditional ecological knowledge is neither homogeneously distributed within communities nor concentrated among socially more powerful groups who, in the absence of a gender-responsive approach, are often the ones selected as research participants. The authors offer an optimistic view of the potential participatory methods hold, when applied in a gender-responsive way, for sharing knowledge and promoting inclusive social learning on forests and tree resources. Papers demonstrate the need to carefully consider when to create segregated or mixed spaces – or indeed both – for participants to create situations in which social learning within and across diverse social groups can occur.

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