The Gender Lens on the Role of Women in Forestry and Conservation
By Rukayat I. Olanrewaju
The United Nations envisaged that by year 2030, women all over the world will have a voice and be heard and will be fully participate with equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life, women will have equal right to all economic resources including ownership and control of land in accordance with national laws.
In Nigeria, women account for over 49% of the total population with 51.4% rural population. Logically over 20% of women in Nigeria live in the rural area and depend on environmental resources (forests) for their daily needs. These women have vital role in the conservation and maintenance of a sustainable ecosystem due to their closeness to this resources. They have intuitive abilities when it comes to the sustenance and management of forest resources because they are the major forest users who depends on the forest for the basic daily needs of their family. They are the herbalist, the gatherer and collectors of forest products. These women have a repository of valuable medical plants and trees, the parts to be used and how it is used, this knowledge is transferred from one generation of women to another thus preserving these indigenous knowledge.
Women’s involvement in forests is motivated by the numerous benefit they derive for their household and communities. Rural women make livelihood from the collection sales of forest products such as vegetable, fruits, soup condiments, staking materials, fodder, fuel wood, medicinal herbs and other products such as sponge, basket weaving, brooms and rattan therefore they have greater stake in forest rehabilitation and management. With the incidence of massive forest destruction, climate change and biodiversity loss, women are the ones that bears the brunt of these development. They have to go further to get herbs for their ailing children, walk to far away streams to fetch water for family needs because the nearby stream is now dried up, search further for choice edible non timber forest products for their family’s daily food needs. They also have to walk further in search of firewood to cook meals and warm their homes. But unfortunately in programmes and projects involving forest dwellers and users, the voice of the key stakeholders ‘the women’ are not heard, neither is their right to the forest acknowledged.
The contribution of women to forest management and conservation is greatly influenced by the sociocultural norms, gender segregation in public places, social perceptions of women’s roles, women’s lack of bargaining power and men’s entrenched claims and control over natural resources. African culture encourages male dominance as such men have greater advantage over women in our society. They are the decision makers while the women are relegated to the “kitchen” limiting their access to education, contracts, credit facilities and other resources. From the cultural point of view, most communities considers it inappropriate for women to attend village meetings where decisions are made. Women are accorded lower status in the society.
The male is viewed as the sole decision maker and as such his opinion is recognised as the stance of his household irrespective of the woman’s viewpoint. Women are usually absent and in some cases under-represented in community forest meetings.
Women especially those living in the rural areas are directly involved in the utilisation and conservation of the environment due to the traditional role imposed on them by the society. Provision and preparation of food, cleaning the house, gathering of fuel wood, fetching of water and care and early education of the children are deemed the women’s fort. In the rural communities, hunting and fishing is the domain of the men but the women collects edible forest plants and medicine. These women tend to have significant knowledge of forest product mix that can contribute to household dietary needs.
These women dominate the collection, processing and marketing of non-timber forest products and are also the keepers of home gardens. In some communities in Nigeria, women do not have right to land ownership and thus can’t make decisions on land use and are also barred from entering and utilising some forests that are tagged as sacred.
In spite of this restrictions, women still carry out silvicultural operations on trees around their homesteads and those on their husband’s farms thus contributing to the sustainable tree management, environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. They are active in afforestation and are also actively involved in nursery development.
The state of the economy has pushed men to migrate from their villages to urban centres to search for supplementary source of income, this development has pushed women into agroforestry, and cultivation of forest products to supplement the food needs and income of their household. These women make great contributions to forestry and agroforestry value chains. However their contribution is not recognized by policy makers and extension services.
In recent times, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) has been creating awareness and educating women on agroforestry and non-timber forest product value addition.
They have recorded great success in the Philippines. In Zimbabwe and Kenya, women’s group manage forest resources management projects through woodlot ownership, tree planting, nursery development and agroforestry. In East Africa, it is mostly the women that plant and tend agroforestry fodder shrubs. In Nigeria, the National forestry policy of 2006 made provision for gender issues in section 3.3.22, but including gender equality in the policy isn’t enough, there should be a clear cut strategy for the inclusion of women in every aspect of forest management and conservation.
Forest policy makers should focus on designing inclusive forestry and agroforestry programmes that will recognise women as forest users, acknowledge their knowledge, experience and take into account their specific needs. They should also endeavour to achieve gender balance in forestry issues, encourage and enable women’s full participation in decision making within forestry association at all levels from the rural communities to the national level and integrate gender into forest policy framework and support women’s active participation in policy process.
The successful implementation of forest management programmes depend largely on the involvement of women because women as nurturers tend to maximise the utilization of natural resources for the family more than men who are most likely interested in how resources could contribute to their personal welfare. Unless the contribution of women to forest management and conservation is recognized, supported and encouraged sustainable forest management would remain elusive. There is an adage that says that, “he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches”. Women shouldn’t be left out in processes centred on forest conservation and management from the grassroots to the national level but rather should work side by side with their male counterparts in a complementary manner.
Rukayat I. Olanrewaju
Ph.D. student of Forest Management,
University of Ibadan.