LIMA, Peru (March 8, 2011) _ Myrna Cunningham chairs the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI) and is member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations. Myrna, indigenous rights activist and Nicaraguan leader, was the first Miskitu woman to earn the title of surgeon. She is a leader in the peace negotiations in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, and has fought for the creation of the Statute of Autonomy in the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean. Myrna was the first Miskitu woman governor of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and coordinator for the Continental Campaign of Indigenous and Black People in 1992.
What are the main challenges faced by forest-dwelling women who are trying to participate in sustainable forest management?
There are many gender myths limiting the holistic development of indigenous women. We are living in the context of a male-centric approach dominating the productive activities in forests. The woman has been traditionally being associated with tasks such as cutting firewood, fishing, farming and craft production. She is the midwife, the healer and the spiritual guide.
For women there are few opportunities to participate in decision-making bodies. In fact, there is a generalized system of property designed to allow women access to household goods, but not to productive assets, for example land, technology and funding. In this there is also a lack of research on women and deforestation, such as the close relationship between women and firewood.
At the moment there are still limited analytical capacities and skills, limited systematization exercises and little attention to the indigenous women’s demands. There is a real need to incorporate the topic of gender differences and forests in various forums.
Recently there has been growing support for incorporating women into the management of forests at the planning level. In your experience, is that happening on the ground?
No, mainly due to lack of skills and training, and the lack of development of technical and administrative capacities among indigenous women. The reason for this is that the system does not believe in women’s capacity in the management of forests.
What needs to be improved?
Women should push public policies that value their role in both the forestry sector and the health care system. Women should also participate in training on forestry issues, such as environmental audits, monitoring, and management. This should help women to create information networks and different skill sets.
From a woman’s perspective, what can women do themselves to increase their participation in the management of forests?
Women need to strive towards opening a space for themselves in the forestry sector, however this requires greater expertise in the various aspects of the forestry sector. To achieve this, women need education, women-focused capacity building, women-focused training. They require technical, administrative and auditing skills.
We, as women, can improve the ability of other women to manage risks related to climate change, with the aim of reducing their vulnerability and of maintaining or increasing their opportunities for development.