Using a gender-sensitive approach to shape meaningful participation in forest protection
March 14, 2023
Following on from International Women’s Day, we want to continue shining a spotlight on the vital importance of ensuring women’s meaningful participation in rainforest protection initiatives. Women are key forest users with important roles in the agricultural industry and unique knowledge of forest diversity, however they are often underrepresented in forest governance and community-based monitoring (CBM) programmes.
A recent research project investigated the roles of women in community-based monitoring and the factors that influence women’s participation, using RFUK’s Real-Time Monitoring (RTM) Africa programme as a case study. The findings provide strong evidence for the many benefits of enrolling women as community monitors, in particular their dedication to sustainable management, time spent observing the forest, and presence in the community. However, it also shows that there are many barriers to women’s participation, and a gender-sensitive approach is essential when designing projects if their inclusion is to be ensured in a meaningful way.
Gender roles mean that women spend more time in the forest than men, as their livelihoods revolve around sustenance activities and non-timber forest product collection, while men may seek other economic roles outside of the community, such as in construction. Thus, they are highly motivated forest-users and perceptive of changes in the environment - community members reported that women were often the first to detect the presence of illegal loggers.
As well as their knowledge of the environment, women in the RTM Africa programme were also described as having strong conflict management and communication skills that benefit their roles in CBM. The presence of female facilitators and staff was also found to especially encourage other women to participate in the programme, thus female monitors are not only important for providing direct representation of women, but also allow more women in the wider community to be consulted on forestry issues.
The barriers to women's participation in RTM Africa, as well as the forestry sector more broadly, were expressed by most informants to be a result of socio-cultural factors, as the president of a women's group from Cameroon expressed:
"Culture is always a challenge for the development of women."
Cultural barriers may include the perception that women are less technologically capable than men. In addition, women may have less time than men to attend meetings or trainings due to other responsibilities such as agricultural work and harvesting of other non-timber forest products. A gender expert from Ghana explained:
"We generally consider the forestry sector to be a man’s field. So even if women are interested at the local level, they may be pushed away because it is seen as not as fit for them."
This testimony highlights the challenges for women to be forest monitors, as the forestry sector is still more broadly situated within a patriarchal system. Marriage was one key socio-cultural barrier highlighted by this study, with several CSO partners from DRC and Cameroon mentioning that nearly all female monitors in the communities they work with are unmarried. The traditional role of women in society means it is not considered a woman's place to have a position of responsibility, such as that of a community monitor. Unfortunately, as mentioned by several CSO coordinators and by community members, women also face the risk of physical and verbal threats, meaning they are less likely to be involved in community-based monitoring.
However, this study also highlighted some key opportunities to increase women’s involvement in CBM. Many female monitors mentioned that being able to use an android phone was the reason why they were selected as a monitor. It was mentioned by several female monitors that having their own equipment would also allow them to avoid conflicts with men. Thus, both technological training and access to monitoring equipment are considered important aspects of enabling women's participation.
Lessons learned and considerations
Increase women-led and women-only technological training
Technological ability is the most critical aspect of monitoring work. Technology training run by female facilitators and in women-only groups allow women to feel more capable and remove socio-cultural barriers. Women-led training is also likely to facilitate other types of capacity building and learning experiences that can support women more widely with the socio-cultural barriers they face in the forestry sector.
Implement gender-sensitive safeguarding
Women can face physical and verbal threats in community monitoring roles, as their involvement may disrupt social and cultural norms. Incorporating how safeguarding issues may be different for women and as a gendered issue will help raise awareness of this and allow women to feel supported and safer in monitoring roles.
Develop gender-sensitive indicators
This study indicated that while women may attend meetings, they are less involved at the decision-making level. Adopting qualitative indicators of women’s participation can ensure their knowledge and experiences are accounted for in the design and implementation of community-based monitoring programmes.
Meaningful participation aims to move beyond marginalised groups filling quotas, and instead ensure they participate in a way that is impactful to programmes, and their knowledge and experiences are shared and accounted for. We hope the findings from this study provide a useful insight into how to ensure the greater consultation and involvement of women in environmental issues.
With many thanks to Emma Cook from the University of Sheffield, who conducted this research, and to the participants from RFUK, partners, and communities who were integral to the study.