Q+A: Male-female lifestyles should factor into Congo climate programs

If forest management policies in the Congo Basin continue to disregard the differences between men and women, they'll be inefficient on the ground irrespective of how well they are designed, says CIFOR scientist Anne-Marie Tiani.
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Differences between men and women need to be considered when designing forest management strategies for the Congo Basin. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

Differences between men and women need to be considered when designing forest management strategies for the Congo Basin. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

In the Congo Basin, men and women carry out quite similar livelihood activities — farming, hunting and collecting various forest products — but in very different ways.

For example, while men fish in big rivers using sizable nets, women fish in small streams using small traps or their bare hands.

Research on forests and gender suggests that differences between men and women should be taken into consideration when designing forest management strategies for the Congo Basin, said Anne-Marie Tiani, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Cameroon.

Certain REDD+ projects – which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation – while helpful for men, have been shown to pose a risk to the livelihoods of women.

REDD+ is a U.N.-backed effort under which wealthier greenhouse-gas emitting countries pay poorer tropical countries to protect standing forest as a way of curbing carbon levels in the atmosphere.

Evidence shows that assessing specific needs and attitudes of men and women early on in pilot REDD+ projects helps not only to promote fair implementation, but also with overall success rates, Tiani said.

“If we are to establish an efficient REDD+ policy for the Congo Basin that is consistent with the reality, the gender aspect should be a starting point,” said Tiani, who works on CIFOR’s Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin (COBAM) program, which provides forest stakeholders with information to help implement climate-change adaptation and carbon-emission reduction projects.

It also aims to reduce poverty, enhance ecosystem services and protect local livelihoods.

This issue will be one of the topics of discussion at the two-day conference Sustainable forest management in Central Africa: Yesterday, today and tomorrow Yaounde, Cameroon. 22-23 May, 2013.

For CIFOR’s special feature on Central Africa’s forests, visit blog.cifor.org/yaounde

The forest area of the Congo Basin, which supports the livelihoods of 60 million people, spans the borders of six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Tiani shares her views in the following interview:

Q: Why are women more vulnerable than men to climate change in the Congo Basin?

A: Traditionally, women can’t own land. They can use their husband’s land, and later their children’s, but they don’t own the right to it — they tend to engage in subsistence farming, but they don’t plant trees because either they are forbidden to or they know they won’t own them. Women help men in perennial farming, then grow their own food for their family.

Climate change worsens inequalities because subsistence farming is more sensitive to weather conditions. Climate change affects yields and women find it harder to feed their family. Local communities said dry seasons were longer, rains more torrential and agricultural patterns disrupted by erratically occurring dry spells. If you add repeated wars and population displacements in our region, you can clearly say that women in the Congo Basin are more vulnerable to climate change than men.

Q: Do REDD+ policies create specific difficulties for women?

A: The state, which has so far prioritised poverty reduction, would now like to combine it with the conservation of forest cover. We have a pilot project in Yokadouma – the authorities there chose to develop cocoa plantations because they can be planted under forest cover. It looks like a good solution, but cocoa growing turns out to be a male business. Women help their husbands in the plantations, but they don’t own the cocoa or its financial returns. This apparent win-win solution leaves women behind — doing the same type of subsistence farming they did in the past. Such cocoa developments could be accompanied with support for women’s subsistence agriculture so that it doesn’t require further encroachment on the forest.

If forest management policies remain gender-blind, however good they may be, they’ll be inefficient on the ground. The gender lens includes everyone and leaves nobody behind. This is true of all forest policies, and in particular of adaptation and REDD+.”

Q: How can gender be taken into account when tackling deforestation and degradation?

A: When policymakers look at the causes of deforestation, the activities of local communities come up as the main factor, but this is a global view. When we start looking at those issues from a gender angle, we’ll realise that men and women are involved in different ways in the use of fuel wood or rotating farming, which are causes of deforestation. This is the reason why we’ve introduced the gender aspect at all levels of our climate change adaptation and mitigation (COBAM) program.

Also, in the past, the talk about forest management as well as REDD+ in political circles didn’t include the gender angle. Things are changing, although slowly.

The Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) is developing a mechanism to take gender into account in forest management policies across central Africa. The Commission is willing to create a gender-sensitive environment that could lead to the strengthening of the principles and mechanisms of the gender mainstreaming in the laws and regulations of the member states.

For more information on the issues in this article, please contact Anne-Marie Tiani at a.tiani@cgiar.org

CIFOR’s research on gender forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

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