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Implications for development

The time has come to help restore the precarious balance between women and forest resources. While this can often be done by simple changes to development projects, it also requires high-level policy support. It is increasingly obvious that the participation of women in forestry projects is crucial to their success. Foresters and planners must consider women as well as men in their plans for forestry development.

how women and planners might react in the future: women communicate their needs and knowledge to planners (1); projects are developed with the benefit of participation from women (2); women's needs can then be specifically targetted (3)

The role of women in forestry projects

Women have important roles to play in all phases of a forestry project, either as a separate group or as part of the community. Their inputs are necessary from the stage of problem identification right through to implementation and evaluation. More than 20 years ago, for example, when the taungya system of planting crops between rows of saplings was being encouraged in Ghana, foresters soon recognized that the role of women was critical, for it was they who traditionally grew garden crops. Foresters in Ghana now have a long history of successful collaboration with women.

Projects specifically for women, as well as joint male-female projects, are justifiable, depending on the circumstances. If an activity is traditionally carried out by men, but is taken over and improved by women as part of a project, the women often lose their new role to the men when the project ends. Special care is therefore needed to ensure that women who help plan and execute projects play sustained roles in implementation and receive due benefits from them. One of the most important ways of doing this is to design projects that provide benefits for both men and women. This is an important reason for avoiding projects in which only women can benefit. Such projects, after all, may be just as invidious as those that are planned by men for men, and which deny women any control of the project or benefit from it.

There are, however, some circumstances in which projects designed specifically and exclusively to benefit women appear justified:

One of the encouraging factors for those who plan forestry projects with identified benefits for women is that women generally have the most to gain. The potential advantages are therefore high.

The advantages of including both men and women in projects became clear in the Cameroon, for example, when men destroyed fences erected round village woodlots; the women, who needed the wood, later helped repair the fences and convinced the men to accept the project.

In Guinea, women have requested projects in which men and women plant trees together. The women felt that if only women were involved men would resent the planting if meals were delayed or women were pre-occupied with the project.

The segregation of activities by gender does not have to restrict women to subsistence level projects. In the Philippines, women are successfully participating in schemes to grow trees as cash crops. In the Republic of Korea and Senegal, women have banded together to grow seedlings for sale.

Planners are just beginning to appreciate the contribution that women can make to forestry development. Women possess a unique indigenous knowledge about the tree species they utilize that can be usefully incorporated into future forest management strategies. For example, local women who accompanied foresters and extension agents on a field trip in Kenya were able to identify more than 20 species of woody shrubs and plants that were unfamiliar to the rest of the party. Sharing this knowledge with foresters creates the potential for better resource use.

Although women can, and should, play a strong role in forest development, this is not always easy; there are still constraints to their full participation.

Constraints to participation

The factors that militate against women participating fully in forestry projects can be succinctly summarized: women are short of land, time and money; they are often poorly organized, have restricted access to political power, and a limited ability to influence decision makers; they are more often illiterate than men and have no collateral to offer for credit; and they are restricted in the jobs they are allowed to do and the distances they are allowed to travel.

In a land-hungry world, some of the factors that prevent women from participating in projects are similar to those that exclude men. One of the key issues is land tenure. Because trees grow slowly, few farmers are prepared to plant trees unless they are sure they will enjoy the benefits. They need secure tenure to land and trees. If this is often a problem for men, it is nearly always so for women. Furthermore, legislation to secure tenure often make things worse for women. A prevalent, but mistaken, attitude has been that if you give to the men, you give to the women. Examples of this attitude have been documented in the Gambia and Kenya where women who held traditional ownership of land lost it when project adjudicators legally allocated land to male heads of households or to male relatives of female heads of household. Women were left with the traditional responsibilities but no legal rights to the land they farmed. Women without legal rights to land have no collateral to offer for loans to buy equipment, seeds or fertilizer- all of which they need.

Land tenure is, in fact, only one aspect of a general problem of women's rights that can have major effects on the execution of forestry projects. People who. have no land have nowhere to plant trees. But more than that, women who have no rights to use certain trees- as is common in many societies- have no incentive to plant them. And women who are forbidden by custom to plant trees have little chance to participate in forestry projects, even those that could provide them with substantial benefits.

If women are to participate in treeplanting projects, they must also have the time. They rarely do. In fact, the more women might benefit from such a project, the less they are likely to have the time to do so. For example, collection of fodder has become immensely time consuming for women in Nepalese hill villages but it has sometimes proved hard to persuade them to plant fodder trees. The main reason turns out to be that the women are often too busy collecting fodder to spare the time. A survey showed that on average women in these villages work 10.81 hours a day, compared to the 7.51 hours worked by their husbands.

Lack of mobility is another drawback to participation. In many societies, women do not enjoy the same freedom to travel as men, or are not allowed to work away from home. Often women are anxious to lift these restrictions which now appear to them out-moded, however socially useful they may once have been. Experience also shows that traditions of this kind often reflect idealized behaviour rather than what people really do. Poorer women, in any case, have learned to put survival above theoretical restrictions about the roles they should play in society.

In some cases, simple common sense can resolve the issue. In Kenya, women refused to partake in a honey-producing project because the hives were in trees, and tree climbing was taboo for women. Lowering the hives solved the problem. In the Sudan, the constraint of mobility was overcome by moving nurseries into the women's compounds. A solution to problems of communication between male project staff and women's groups can be resolved by ensuring that women staff are hired for the project. While not all constraints to women's participation are as easily resolved, policy measures can go a long way to help.

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