How closing the gender gap will lead to better forest management

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 October, 2011)_Understanding the different roles and responsibilities of women, and increasing their opportunities to participate in forest management could help address gender imbalances in the forestry sector – a move which could have a positive impact on the sustainable management of forests – says a special gender and forests themed journal issue featuring the work of several CIFOR scientists.
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Photo by Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 October, 2011)_Understanding the different roles and responsibilities of women, and increasing their opportunities to participate in forest management could help address gender imbalances in the forestry sector – a move which could have a positive impact on the sustainable management of forests – says a special gender and forests themed journal issue featuring the work of several CIFOR scientists.

“We already know that men and women use the forest in different ways but their relationship with the forest is constantly changing. With climate change, traditional gender based roles are becoming more fluid, which is creating opportunities for women to engage in activities that not only improve livelihoods, but allow them to better adapt,” said Esther Mwangi, senior scientist at the Centre for International Forestry Research and co- author of the introduction to the special issue of the International Forestry Review.

Examining a variety of gender-based themes from climate vulnerability, women’s rights and access to forests resources, women’s social movements, forest tenure reform, and REDD, the special issue addresses the different roles, preferences and responsibilities of men and women in forest use and management and how these may have an impact on sustainable management practices.

The authors also highlight the need for further research into how the complementary skills sets of men and women could be used to protect forests from deforestation and degradation which will be vital for climate change mitigation schemes, such as REDD+, to work.

Previous CIFOR research by Mwangi and others in East Africa and Latin America has shown that mixed groups of women and men lead to better forest management. The research drew on previous studies which found that when women participated in forest management activities, they had a positive impact on sustainable management practices.

Forest user groups with a higher proportion of women improved – and often accelerated – the regeneration of forested lands. The presence of women also led to the increased knowledge of group rules, the better regulation of illicit activities, and the improved capacity to manage conflicts.

“We are not saying that the increase in women in forest user groups will always lead to better conservation of forested areas, instead we are highlighting that when men and women work together, they get better results”, said CIFOR scientist, Yen Hoang Mai.

Both male and female employees stain and polish wooden furniture products. Photo by Murdani Usman/CIFOR

Traditionally women have been seen as ‘conservators’ of the forest due their knowledge and dependence on forest resources for food, fuel and medicines. Men have tended to play a greater role in extracting timber and non-timber forest products for commercial purposes.

This new research examines how women from Africa, Asia and Latin America are taking up new roles in the forestry sector, and in some cases, moving into areas predominately dominated by men. In Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Zambia, women were seen to play a key role in the production and marketing of forest products, and in Indonesia, women have moved up the value chain, into areas such as furniture making.

However, despite the increasing recognition of the role that women play, gender biases still marginalise women and their participation in community forestry. A lack of education, employment opportunities and access to networks means that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to influencing key decisions in the sustainable management of forests and in capturing benefits from forests.

“Women have shown themselves to be as entrepreneurial and opportunistic as men when it comes making the most of what the forest has to offer, yet they lack the political leverage to get their voices heard,” said Mai.

The special issue recommends that while increasing the number of women participating in forest user groups and committees is important to address gender imbalances, understanding the different views and interests of women, taking into account ethnicity, religion, age and wealth, could lead to the design of policies better suited to both men and women.

“There are whole range of factors that determine women’s participation in forestry, this research attempts to identify the barriers to their inclusion, what can be done to strengthen their ability to voice their interest, and how to move policy in directions that they see as desirable” said Mwangi.

Click here to purchase the gender and forests special issue (free online articles can be found below)

Visit the CIFOR Gender page

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