The lives of women and forests are closely intertwined. Women use trees for wood fuel, as a source for herbal medicine, gum, fodder, wax, honey and fruits. Forests assist in poverty alleviation, as women can sustain their families by selling their fruits. Women also use trees as shade and windbreakers in their homesteads, and the branches make very good brooms for keeping the compound clean.
With forests and trees so vital to everyday life, women are demanding a say in the implementation of REDD, an acronym for the initiative to reduce the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. At a side event at COP 17, Regan Suzuki of REDD-net Asia made a case for the inclusion of women's voices and interests in policy negotiations and implementation regarding REDD. "Gender matters because women are entitled to equitable information, participation and benefits," said Suzuki, hinging her argument on a rights based approach.
While those attending the meeting recognised the importance of women's input, the gender dimension hardly features in discussions on issues regarding forestry and the reclamation of forests. The fact that few women occupy influential positions in the forestry sector contributes to this.
"Forest work is identified as the work of men," says Yani Septiani, a representative from the Indonesian forestry ministry. This can lead to gender blind policies. It has often been argued that women cannot be leaders as they cannot read or write but "women are the main players in forestry and have better ways of conserving them," Septiani added.
Jeanette Gurung, Executive Director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) indicated that in finding out if organisations working in forestry had mainstreamed gender, they discovered that some organisations did not know about international instruments such as the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Ironically, they were very aware of instruments protecting indigenous people, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP).
Not all women are gender sensitive and there is a need to build capacity of women to take on leadership roles in managing forests, as well leverage spaces for women's participation and empowerment in understanding forestry. In Philippines, they have started a school for women to facilitate knowledge sharing.
The depletion of forests and the conservation of forests have a direct impact on women's lives. Having less fuel could contribute to women preparing food with less nutritional value and women walking longer distances in search of wood fuel.
"High nutrition sources such as lentils would decline," argued Suzuki, if women had to consider the time and wood fuel used to cook these foods. She also added that in some areas women felt food secure based on the size of the stockpile of wood outside their houses. With restrictions on how to use forests, this security would be lost as the pile shrinks.
But how do we ensure that decisions from high level deliberations such as the COP 17 trickle down to the grassroots?
Marlea Munez from the Women's Initiatives for Society, Culture and Environmental Inc. argues, "We have to demand for post-COP 17 meetings in rural, not just urban, areas, as COP decisions affect the lives of rural people." Munez said that the official government delegations owe it to the rural communities to do so in a way they can easily understand. "They should have the burden of translating this into simple language based on local circumstances," she reiterated.
The women gathered at the REDD meeting suggested ways in which gender could be mainstreamed in REDD initiatives. These include incorporating gender analysis and strategic planning in all REDD+ readiness and implementation stages, developing gender monitoring tools with gender disaggregated data; raising awareness about considering women as stakeholders; and addressing tenure issues in an effort to secure women's right to forest products and carbon.
"REDD+ policies should move beyond do no harm principles to provide processes that advance women's rights to forest resources and REDD+ benefits," argued Abidah Setyowati in a WOCAN policy brief. "Gender issues will be more effectively addressed if we put these issues on the negotiation table," argues Setyowati.
"Agroforestry is an effective strategy for women's involvement in forest conservation," adds Suzuki. It would address the needs of women, which sometimes differ from those of men concerning forests. It would allow women to bring on board a different perspective as compared to the men. This would also assist women become recognised as members of the community who can make contributions in deliberations about the community's welfare.
And for anyone who thinks rural women may not have the time or interest to participate in forums and decision-making, Suzuki counters the argument. Women who walk long distances to participate in community forest users' groups said they do so because these gatherings give them "a public identity, they are able to vote and be involved in decision making," said Suzuki. In so doing, we would create REDD champions in the women and save our environment.
Florence Sipalla is a Programme Officer and Sub-editor with AWC's Media Diversity Centre and Loga Virahsawmy is the Director of Gender Links Francophone Office in Mauritius. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service and AWCFS special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.
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