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Guest Post: Women Remain Outside the Global Forest Estate

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The role of women in protecting and managing forests is often excluded from discussions about forests. The Rights and Resources Initiative points out in the guest post below that the story of women of indigenous and forest communities, who continue to lag far behind in securing tenure rights, remains largely untold.

In a similar vein, Jeannette Gurung from Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) recently carried out an assessment of gender issues in REDD for USAID. She and her colleagues asked community groups and organisations implementing REDD projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand about gender impacts. In an interview on CIFOR’s forest blog, she says that the most common reaction was “Oh – we forgot. We didn’t even think about these things.”

In an interview with REDD-Monitor earlier this year, Andy White coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative explained that

“the early evidence from the REDD strategies being developed around the world is that the most obvious and perhaps cheapest ways to reduce emissions (the goal of REDD programs) are usually either overlooked or discarded. And that is … suspending the industrial concessions for logging and conversion for agriculture and launching the tenure and governance reforms that will put forests into the hands of people who really own them and most often want to keep them forested.”

The development of the tenure and governance reforms that are needed to protect forests must include women.

GUEST POST by Rights and Resources Initiative
Women Remain Outside the Global Forest Estate

A study presented in July 2011 at the International Conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise in Lombok, Indonesia, suggests that granting greater control to local forest communities has been a key element in the turn-around accomplished by China, South Korea, Vietnam and Nepal, which in the last 20 years have had significant success in re-gaining vast areas of forest.

Yet participants at the conference learned that there is one story that is not being told— that of the women of indigenous and forest communities, who continue to lag far behind in securing tenure rights.

“China made a huge success in forest land reform,” said Li Ping, a researcher with Landesa. “Land is allocated to individual households, and the rights are legally defined as property rights… But Chinese women tend to move to their husband’s village on marriage, and when they divorce, they tend to move back to their home village, but land cannot be moved.”

Avi Mahaningtyas of Kemitraan, an NGO that works for governance reform, noted that the REDD+ program in Indonesia has few indigenous women participants. “If you are a mother, you are number two; you are not the head of the family,” said Avi. “So even if policies are affirmative, how to implement them is a challenge… And when education level is low, it is likely that women will not be reached by government programs or forest-based development.”

To address these challenges, said Avi, it’s important to find new ways to draw out the women who are most affected by the tenure crisis, as they are often reluctant to speak out in the crowded setting of a consultation meeting.

In his opening talk at the conference, Rights and Resources Coordinator Andy White said women in the forest communities of the developing world have “weaker land rights and civil rights and are particularly vulnerable to all types of abuse.”

“This is a horrible scar on the forest sector, a blot on the historical record, and one we must deal with if we are to say with a straight face that we have achieved development in forest areas.”

In a forthcoming compilation of perspectives from throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the Rights and Resources Initiative begins to explore the underlying causes and possible solutions for issues of gender and forest tenure, including implications for the future of REDD in Asia.

For more information, please contact Jenna DiPaolo at or follow RRI on twitter @RightsResources.

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