Brazilian women push for greater role in managing forest reserves

BOGOR, Indonesia (20 October, 2011)_While women in many of Brazil’s extractive reserves do not play a large role in decision-making processes, a recent study conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and National Council of Extractivist Populations (CNS) has found that Amazonian women are pushing for greater roles in generating income from forest products and safeguarding areas that serve as a principal source of food and medicine for their families.
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Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

BOGOR, Indonesia (20 October, 2011)_While women in many of Brazil’s extractive reserves do not play a large role in decision-making processes, a recent study conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and National Council of Extractivist Populations (CNS) has found that Amazonian women are pushing for greater roles in generating income from forest products and safeguarding areas that serve as a principal source of food and medicine for their families.

“Women in extractive reserves are in need of leadership experience in order to be able to shape policies that more adequately address their specific needs,” said Trilby MacDonald, co-author of Brazil’s Social Movement, Women and Forests: A Case Study from the National Council of Rubber Tappers, published in a special gender themed edition of the International Forestry Review.

Women in the Brazilian Amazon are highly dependent on forest resources to provide food and medicines for their families and communities, but decisions regarding land use and forest management in extractive reserves (areas of land where access and usage rights are allocated to local groups) remain the exclusive domain of men. Women members of the CNS, a leading force in the Amazonian social movement, are working hard to change that.

The CNS Secretariat of Women Extractivists has held hundreds of workshops throughout Brazil’s extractive reserves — conservation areas designated for protection of forest-dependent communities — pushing for an increased role for women in promoting sustainable forest management and advocating the right of women to earn an income and own land.

Over the last 15 years, these workshops have traveled to the remotest corners of the Amazon to mobilize rural communities to push for forest conservation and a greater political role for women, reaching an estimated 30,000 women and men.

From meetings held with 18 communities in extractive reserves, surrounding settlements and logging areas, the authors of the study found that women’s assessment of the value of forests differed considerably from men’s. Men defined timber as the species that had the greatest value because it earned the most money. By contrast, women noted various species and plant types, based on their particular uses for nutrition and health care.

“The majority of women considered the economic value and direct use of species for food, nutrition, medicine and culture,” the study found. “Forest conservation for many rural women in Amazonia signifies sustenance for their families and cultural continuity.”

Promoting female leaders in Brazil’s forest communities will be critical in ensuring women’s concerns and interests are represented in decisions shaping the country’s forest reserves. “Where women are less integrated into decision-making processes, there is less likelihood of equitable negotiation regarding the use of forest resources, often leading to unsustainable outcomes,” the study noted.

Educator Gloria Gaia, who has held workshops with forest communities for the last 10 years, told CIFOR researchers, “In every community, it is the men who sell the forest.” Women in some areas of the Amazon, she said, are replanting to bring back the medicine and fruit trees.

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

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