Two users of RFUK’s real-time forest monitoring technology, ForestLink, in DRC. Credit: GASHE
Women have an important role to play in protecting and managing their local rainforests. Whether used for food, medicines or firewood, women in the Congo Basin depend greatly on rainforests for their livelihoods. They have a huge stake in protecting their local environment which includes safeguarding their forests from external threats such as illegal logging and mining.
Despite this, women are often left out of key decisions that affect them. This is often due to a lack of formal education, the responsibility of childcare duties and traditional cultural norms. These obstacles can, however, be overcome.
One of the aims of RFUK’s Real-Time Monitoring (RTM) project in Africa is to empower women to have a more active role in the protection of their forests. Generally speaking, RTM is all about providing communities the tools and capacity building they need to advocate for their rights and defend their forests. By using customised and easy-to-use mobile technologies, even the most marginalised members of the community can participate, despite a lack of formal education. With the goal of empowering women and reducing inequalities between social groups, women are a target group of participants for this project.
Often what is most needed is space for women to participate in forest management. This can be done by making sure that women are included in training programs and awareness-raising events, and that these capacity-building activities are designed in a way that facilitates their participation and contribution. Small focus groups are a good way of navigating group dynamics and encouraging female participation.
Partner organisations GASHE (based in DRC) and FODER (based in Cameroon) recently asked some of the women taking part in the RTM project for their thoughts on the project as well as the challenges facing their communities. Here’s what they told our teams:
RTM Team: Why is the forest important to you and your family? What resources do you use in everyday life?
Mari Mongo (Community of Bonganda, Democratic Republic of Congo): "The forest is our life. Cassava, meat, everything comes from the forest.”
Lucie Ntamdeh (Messok Village, District of Assok, Cameroon) "The forest provides me with money to send the children to school. I collect the fruits in the forests which I can then sell."
RTM Team: What challenges or problems do you encounter with the use of forest resources?
Mari Mongo (Community of Bonganda, Democratic Republic of Congo): "Now there are more difficulties related to logging, especially for the [local development] committee which was supposed to monitor exploitation activities and ensure community benefits but nothing has been done and the logging companies are destroying the little that we have."
Lucie Ntamdeh (Messok Village, District of Assok, Cameroon) “The collection of forest products is becoming difficult because the forest is farther and farther from [our] houses because of logging activities.”
RTM Team: Do you feel like you have a voice in decision-making in the community?
Bokungu Mpeti (Democratic Republic of Congo): “For us, women do not make decisions. But since GASHE has been training us, women have begun to make decisions because they are more aware.”
RTM Team: Why did you decide to participate in this project? What aspects of the project is the most interesting or attractive to you?
Merveille Ekongo Etaka (Community of Boonde, Democratic Republic of Congo): "I agreed to participate in this project to organize things in my village. For us, these lessons are very important in order to be aware of the exploitation that is being done around us.”
Rosalie Ndo (Community of Nkonmkak, Cameroon) “I agreed to participate because it allows me to learn how to defend the community's rights for our community forest where we do not know anything and we do not see where the money goes.”
RTM Team: Do you enjoy the project so far? Is it useful for you?
Bonzeme Tangotele (Community of Bokenge, Democratic Republic of Congo): "This training is very important. Before, we were like blindfolded people but now we have opened our eyes and we hope that everything will be fine.”
RTM Team: If you could give advice to women from other communities in Cameroon, what advice or wishes would you give?
Nadine Menyenedue (Ebolowa District, Cameroon): “Women should dialogue well with their husbands so as not to be in conflict and be able to participate in ForestLink RTM activities, to denounce the bad practices of loggers."
We also had the chance to receive a comment from a female RTM participant in Ghana. Beatrice Owusu, a community monitor from Dannso in the Ashanti region of Ghana told our partner organisation, Civic Response:
“I didn’t know that the forest belongs to all of us. I thought it belonged to the governments and so I cared less about what happened to it. Now that I know it belongs to all of us and that the community can get financial benefits from it, I am happy to help protect it from illegal activities”.
We then asked partner organisation FODER some questions based on their first-hand experiences of working with women participating in the RTM project, and forest management more generally. This is what they said:
What is the situation of the communities you work with? How does illegal logging affect them?
FODER RTM team: “The communities we work with live in a precarious situation with very difficult access to drinking water, electricity, health care, education ... They are for the most part ignorant of forest legality and their rights and so sometimes become involved in illegal logging. They often lose the benefits of logging that should facilitate their development.”
What actions have you taken to better involve women in this project?
FODER RTM team: “During training, special facilities are granted to women. During the ForestLink training at Akom2, for example, we admitted children and facilitated the transport of some women who could not be present because of the isolation of their communities.”
What was the reaction of women once involved in this project?
FODER RTM team: “They are satisfied and proud, and find in the project an opportunity to raise their awareness and increase their knowledge.”
The current phase of the RTM project is running from 2018-2021 and is taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ghana and the Republic of Congo. A significant part of the project’s strategy focuses on the empowerment of women and other similarly marginalised groups. To find out more about Real-Time Monitoring Project in the Congo Basin, click here.