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[Managing Forests For Multiple Use]


Gender and Diversity


As forestry researchers and managers recognise the importance of addressing the interests of multiple stakeholders in forest use, so is it important to adequately reflect the diversity within and among stakeholder groups, especially local forest dwellers. Power imbalances and access restrictions based on gender, ethnicity, status of wealth and other differences may block participation by many people who interact intimately with forests and have much to contribute to effective management of them.

Tapping this often undervalued knowledge and expertise can bring critical insights to research, ensuring that it leads to maximum benefits and equitable impact. Recognising that barriers in language, culture and other factors often hinder participation by women and other less dominant groups, CIFOR has initiated a Gender and Diversity Programme to help ensure that research activities incorporate diverse perspectives and are as accessible as possible to all groups. Women are a major focus of this initiative because of their traditionally unequal access to forest land and resources and their restricted role in local decision making, which tends to undermine their social and economic security.

Gender issues are well represented in social criteria and indicators being developed by CIFOR to measure progress toward sustainable management of forests. Among the measures that CIFOR researchers are now testing, for their usefulness as indicators of social well-being among forest dwellers, are the nature and extent of women’s participation in local co-management, as well as confidence about access to forest land and the benefits that accrue from it.

What significance does such research have for sustainable management of forests? From studies in Cameroon, for example, CIFOR researchers found that inheritance patterns that forbid ownership of land by women may influence how local forest land is used – to the possible detriment of forest cover. The tenuous land tenure in the study area appeared to encourage many women in tropical Cameroon to plant mainly subsistence crops that involved shifting cultivation and the use of greater areas of land for crop rotation, while men, as landowners, had the option of cultivating perennial and commercially important plantation crops such as coffee, cocoa and oil palm.

In 1998, under a grant from the CGIAR’s Program on Participatory Research and Gender Analysis for Technology Development and Institutional Innovation, CIFOR laid the groundwork for conducting gender-related studies in Asia and Africa as part of broad-based efforts to develop criteria and indicators that can help guide community co-management of forests. The initial work will be integrated into studies already underway in the village of Long Loreh, East Kalimantan, to investigate methods leading to greater local empowerment and improved cooperation between relevant stakeholders.

Local organisations such as lending agencies often play a central role in ensuring the livelihood and financial security of forest-dwelling people. CIFOR research in Zimbabwe revealed dramatic differences in perceptions about a local lending agency among men and women based on household roles and experiences in dealing with the agency. In a survey, women ranked the agency very low, while men gave it very high marks. The different attitudes were found to be rooted in the corporation’s practice of giving loans mainly to sectors of agriculture that were dominated by men, such as cotton, maize and sunflower production, whereas low priority was given to agricultural activities more typical of women, such as gardening and groundnut production.

In Tanzania, research by CIFOR shows that economic hardships have led to changes in gender roles in rural areas. Women are increasingly expanding their roles away from traditional domestic activities to income-generating activities such as forest product exploitation and sale, casual labor and petty businesses. Men are gradually taking up activities that have traditionally been in the domain of women.