The 'Community Forest' model in DRC offers an unprecedented opportunity for communities there to legally secure, manage and protect their traditional forests. But to assure the delivery of equitable and sustainable outcomes, there is a need to ensure they are developed by the communities themselves, with actively inclusive processes to ensure the information obtained on land tenure and land use patterns is accurate and reflective of the interests of all members of the community.
This is particularly the case for women, who often face structural and cultural barriers to their participation and whose role in forest resource management often lacks recognition. Traditional norms and customs often mean that women have to depend on men for access to land and resources, which can limit their power and voice in community management and decision-making structures. This problem is further compounded by an unequal division of labour between men and women in many forest communities, with women taking on responsibilities as farm producers as well as for the domestic household. This leads to heavy workloads and lack of time, further constraining women’s engagement in community forestry.
Nevertheless, there are practical measures to break down these barriers to women’s participation. In DRC, our partner organisations GASHE, GeoFirst and PREPPYG ensure that they conduct field activities such as focus groups or participatory mapping separately with women first, so that their voices can be heard. Further good practice includes holding meetings within the villages at times of the day that are convenient for female participants, and with the meal preparation arranged so that women can themselves attend community meetings. Engagement in community forestry initiatives also provides women a pathway to promote and advocate for gender issues at the provincial and national levels, such as at the DRC National Round Table on Community Forestry. Through improving women’s involvement in public life, and supporting their collective action and networking, capacity is built to foster the emergence of female leadership and encourage attitude change towards the overcoming of discriminatory stereotypes within communities and on a broader scale. With the adoption of the Community Forestry Decree in 2014, tens of millions of hectares are now potentially available to develop community-based forest management models, representing a huge opportunity not only to transform the lives of forest communities across the country, but those of the women of DRC.