What is the value of Women's Participation in Forest Governance?


What is the value of Women's Participation in Forest Governance?


Forest ecosystems are becoming more and more vulnerable to alterations in temperature, precipitation patterns, and pollutant concentrations, which can result in drought, forest fires, and a decline in biodiversity. Women, who make up the majority of the world's poor population and are mostly reliant on natural resources, face threats from both climate change and the slow loss of forests. Women suffer additional social, economic, and political obstacles that make it more difficult for them to participate in activities for mitigation and adaptation.

For Adivasi women, having access to forests is very important. According to studies, the country's food production system depends heavily on the work that Adivasi women do collecting food and other products from the jungle. Many populations in rural Africa and Asia, particularly India, rely on forest biomass for their daily needs and household fuel.

The majority of these tribes' women are in charge of gathering and using this biomass. As the amount of forest cover decreases, these women must go further to get the material, which can sometimes take more than 20 hours. The amount of time left over for a job, politics, or even education is little. This not only perpetuates a cycle of disempowerment, but the long hours and greater distances make these women more susceptible to accidents and harassment.

Therefore, forests support women's social identity, economic freedom, and possibilities for progress. Women are excluded from forest governance and conservation despite having a close link with forests.

Lack of Female Decision-Makers in the Governance of the Forest

The Indian Forest Service hired its first female officers in 1980. Since then, this number has hardly increased, with women making up a pitiful 9% of the workforce as of 2020. Women are systemically underrepresented in positions of authority and decision-making, and their participation in community-led initiatives is even lessened. When Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi women are taken into account, this gender gap becomes even more pronounced.

But why does it matter that woman hold senior positions in the conservation of forests? For starters, because of their reliance on forests, women have a thorough understanding of the environment and the knowledge and abilities necessary to locate, gather, and manage its supplies. More than half of the world's population who depend on the land are believed to be indigenous and rural women. Therefore, eliminating their voices from conservation and land management decisions entails excluding all of the group's expertise and rights to forest management.

Adivasi women have made a substantial contribution to the preservation of their woods while being consistently excluded by administrative authorities.

Storytelling from India's Adivasi women on defending their land

The "Thengapalli" practice practised by its ladies has garnered media attention in the past year in the Odisha tribal community of Kodarapalli. The term "sticks-turn" refers to a system whereby women alternately patrol the forest with lathis. In an effort to safeguard the resources and forest area, they crack down on smugglers, thieves, and the timber mafia.

The women are adamant about preserving the forest that ensures their survival, having already preserved more than 50 acres of forest land. The Forest Rights Act of India predates this conservation strategy. In the 1970s, a group of women started it in Nayagarh by bringing a timber thief to justice. Because they tended to be more stern with smugglers, the women gradually took charge of the forest patrol operations.

Within the forest, villages display impressive localised conservation initiatives. As a consequence of strategies like forming socio-economic partnerships between communities and providing water to put out fires in the summer, 135 villages now protect 1/3 of Odisha's woods.

Jamuna Tudu from Jharkhand is well-known across the country for her work protecting the state's woods. Over 60 women make up her organisation, the Van Suraksha Samiti, which patrols the forests in shifts while occasionally risking their lives to thwart smugglers, thieves, and vandals. Although Jamuna received recognition from the President for her efforts, she began her career in forest conservation knowing that authorities are not very helpful. Another illustration of how reverently Adivasi people regard the forests that support them is the Van Suraksha Samiti's willingness to pursue criminals despite the risks.

Community forest rights are giving women in Gondia, Maharashtra, financial independence. 2013 saw the community forest rights granted to Dhamditola village, providing the residents with a source of income. Water and cooking gas were also made available to the community, giving women more time to work in the fields and make money. These women progressively gained the financial freedom and autonomy they needed to assume key leadership positions in the community.

At least one woman attends each gramme sabha meeting, and many villages have women-only self-help groups that regularly donate money to build a fund that can be utilised for low-interest loans. These women have been able to reconstruct their homes and even buy themselves nice apparel because of their financial independence and access to cash.

The protection of India's forests depends on women's understanding and participation in governance. These women's ability to participate in decision-making results in economic independence.

Promoting Women's Involvement in Forest Governance

Giving women positions in bodies that make decisions, however, is not the only way to include them. The majority of women are reluctant to take the initiative because of the social, economic, political, and cultural traditions that give the man's word the most weight. As a result, the approach is progressive and geared at long-term education, rights recognition, and independence developed for women to not only represent but also actively engage in important conservation issues.

It is important to acknowledge Adivasi women's traditional knowledge and connection to the forest. The amount of forest cover in India has already increased thanks in part to Adivasi women. Be it the women of Kodarapalli who saved a third of the forests in Odisha or the Muturkham women in Jharkhand who rescued 50 hectares of forest land from the timber mafia. However, these women and their contributions go unmentioned in the publications illustrating India's rising forest cover.

According to studies, local people and the forest ecology both benefit when decisions are made in the forest by women. Future female leaders are more likely to be inspired by the active policy leadership of women in a region. For effective participation, it is crucial to understand what the appropriate proportion or "critical mass" of women in forest conservation is. Though the final target must be 50%, this percentage is now assessed to be at 30%.

The gathering of data is an excellent starting point for obtaining critical mass. This contains information on how vulnerable groups are distributed throughout India's forested regions and an awareness of their socioeconomic and cultural circumstances. In order to effectively encourage women's participation and conservation, solutions must be localised and contextualised to the community. Data collection on gender equality in forest governance in India is also an essential first step.

The provision of forestry training, skill-building workshops, and networking opportunities are necessary for ongoing engagement while encouraging more women to take on decision-making responsibilities. In contrast to the Draft National Forest Policy of 2018, which made no reference to women or gender, they must be made a crucial component of national legislation to emphasise the relevance of women in forest decisions.

More women need to be in leadership positions in community-led forest conservation activities. These may include measures to reduce forest fires, knowledge exchange, and the planting of native plant species.

India has committed to ambitious climate change mitigation goals in response to the global climate catastrophe. Experts are urging the inclusion of community-focused adaption strategies in State Climate Action Plans as they become more prevalent. The climate divide will only get wider and efforts will be ineffective if efforts to establish these essential climate-resilient policies continue to ignore the concerns and views of women.

The underlying cycle of caring between women and trees must be recognised at this pivotal time in the fight against climate change. Women increase their social position, acquire knowledge and skills, become economically independent, and preserve biodiversity through protecting and expanding forest cover. Women's rights are without a doubt forest rights.

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