Yes, we could and we did. Gender specialists share success stories

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By Markus Ihalainen

The event “Gender Matters in Forestry – Challenges and Opportunities”, during the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, brought together policy makers, practitioners and researchers to look at what is already being done to address gender in forest policy and practice. The panel featured: Esther Mwangi, Principal Scientist (CIFOR), Heidrun Ströbert-Beloud, Gender Officer (GIZ), Patricia Rosete Xotlanihua, Deputy Director of Intersectoral Cooperation, Mexican National Forestry Commission, Eva Müller, Director at the FAO Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, Bhaswati Thakurta, PhD candidate, University of Calcutta and Åsa Torkelsson, Economic Empowerment Advisor, UN Women.

Photo: FAO
Gender matters in forestry. Photo: FAO

We know gender matters in forestry. An ever-increasing body of research has time and again demonstrated that. We know that cultural norms and power relations often assign men and women different roles in forest use and management; gender inequalities persist in access and control over forest resources, benefit distribution as well as participation in decision-making. These inequalities are further likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

We also know that empowering women in forest management and use is crucial for realizing their rights. It is also often likely to bring about more egalitarian policy outcomes and environmental benefits.

So instead of discussing whether gender matters or not, why not look at what is already being done in terms of addressing gender in forest policy and practice? Our event tried to do just that.

Examining various initiatives and approaches, and understanding what works, what doesn’t, and why, is of crucial importance, also to allow for compiling and up-scaling best practices and identifying the enabling conditions, under which certain approaches to integrating gender translate into the desired outcomes.

Empowering women benefits the forestry sector. Photo: Simon Maina/FAO
Empowering women in forestry also benefits the environment. Photo: Simon Maina/FAO

In Uganda and Nicaragua, CIFOR researchers worked alongside communities to jointly identify and address barriers to equal participation in decision-making. They used a participatory research approach titled Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM). After five years, women’s representation in forest executive committees is now on par with men’s, compared to the baseline figure of 16% at the inception stage. Involving both women and men in the process also made it easier for men to accept women’s leadership, said presenter Esther Mwangi

Promoting equal participation in forest decision-making also benefits the environment. In her research in India, Bhaswati Thakurta found that laws for equal participation in forest administration groups were often not enforced. Before women were included, it was the responsibility of men to guard the forest area, but they were idle and drank alcohol. This depraved their families of income so that the women saw themselves forced to cut trees illegally to sell them for livelihood.

The West Bengal state forest department changed the scenario radically. They included women in the forest management program and created Forest Protection Committees that were exclusively managed by women. So the illegal felling stopped.

Working with the male-dominated Moroccan Forest Administration on gender mainstreaming, Heidrun Ströbert-Beloud and the GIZ project team asked how the Moroccan forest sector could support gender-equal participation on the local forest user level, if the institution itself is not gender-inclusive? To change this, GIZ trained forest officials on gender issues and helped to bring more women into the forest administration. Since female representation is slowly but constantly increasing and staff are more aware of gender issues, both factors are expected to contribute to a more gender inclusive forest policy.

In Mexico, women’s land ownership and participation in forest decision-making is very limited. To address these issues, CONAFOR has adopted a twofold approach. First, the commission promotes women’s participation through gender-specific programs. These programs focus both on building women’s capacity as well as raising awareness of gender issues among men. Second, the commission – much like GIZ in Morocco – actively works to increase awareness of gender within CONAFOR. This involves studies, stakeholder consultations and building the capacity of staff. For the past two years, CONAFOR has devoted 10% of their budget to gender-specific activities, and their advances in integrating gender considerations into policy were hailed as a “shining example” by Lorena Aguilar from IUCN in the Huffington Post.

Eva Müller stated that women’s participation is increasing in many countries, but their access to decision-making and leadership positions continues to be limited. A study by FAO and RECOFTC suggests that while gender-responsive policies are crucial, they might not be enough to reduce pervasive gender inequalities in forestry. Instead, policies should be supported by a number of additional measures, such as: 1) gender sensitization seminars and workshops for decision-makers; 2) supporting institutions to facilitate incremental learning and knowledge exchange; 3) facilitating coordination between technical line ministries and women’s groups and their alliances; and 4) strengthening the capacity of women’s organizations, user networks to engage in forestry-related consultations.

There is need for further alignment of the sustainability and gender agendas, said Åsa Torkelsson from UN Women. There is no sustainable development without everyone on board. Women are relatively most impacted by climatic changes. UN Women’s forthcoming work with UNEP–UNDP-PEI Africa and World Bank estimates the substantive Cost of the Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity, and explores the impact on agricultural production and national income. This gap exists because women frequently have unequal access to key agricultural inputs, such as land, labor, knowledge, fertilizer and improved seeds. Sticky areas for gender inequalities remain and new areas emerge: land, access to technologies. UN Women’s Alliance for Women in Technologies proposes to increase women’s productivity and time-saving and reduce post-harvest losses.

All presentations showed that working jointly with forestry departments and local communities to raise awareness and build their capacity in gender issues, encouraging equal representation and offering continued support, are measures that have the potential of resulting in more gender-responsive policies and outcomes.

Throughout the presentations, the importance of involving boys and men in the process of changing gender relations was stressed as a key factor for ensuring both immediate and long-term success. Unequal power-relations are often deeply rooted in norms and institutions, and thus rarely questioned. By identifying and discussing privileges and power that groups have over one another, and pointing at both the injustice of inequality and the collective benefits of equality, perceptions of what is “normal” can slowly begin to change.




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