Forest tenure reform in the global south has often failed to be gender-responsive, but there is increasing interest in taking up this challenge to activate effective change.
Now, a new guide created by scientists with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) aims to make the process more accessible, recommending a three-step process, billed as “analyse, strategise, and realise,” to support interventions in local and national contexts.
“Tenure reform can lead to gender equality and women’s empowerment, but to date its potential in this regard hasn’t been realised,” said Anne Larson, team leader of Equal Opportunities, Gender Justice and Tenure at CIFOR and one of the editors of the guide.
“By examining pathways for tackling structural barriers in multiple arenas, which involves learning from failures and how women’s practices are socially embedded and networked, we offer insights into the ways tenure reform can foster gender equality.”
At issue is the generally accepted notion that under the right governance conditions, community forest tenure has the potential to lead to a reduction in deforestation, improve carbon storage and increase livelihood options for Indigenous and local communities in comparison to state-managed forests.
The key is how gender equality is an essential cornerstone of such effective community forest tenure regimes, said the guide’s author Nayna Jhaveri, an independent tenure specialist and a CIFOR consultant.
Because women and men have different knowledge regarding specific trees and forests, which can be complementary, joint contributions are required to effectively sustain collaborative forms of forest management.
Anne Larson, team leader and guide editor, Equal Opportunities, Gender Justice and Tenure, CIFOR
She also added that pressures for gender equality are emerging from various directions.
“To make tenure reforms work for women and men, we need to involve all in processes of implementation, but participation is not enough and does not secure equality or empowerment, said editor Iliana Monterroso, co-coordinator of Gender and Social Inclusion at CIFOR. “We also need to improve capacities of those involved in the process.”
The aim of the “analyse, strategise and realise pathway” developed by Jhaveri is to systematically advance the responsible governance of forest tenure – a broad concept that refers to who has rights to forest lands and who uses, manages and makes decisions about resources – while supporting the interests of women and men of all backgrounds.
Through situational analysis of current gendered forest tenure and responsible governance scenarios, current achievements, emerging needs and future challenges can be understood so that a well-targeted strategic plan of action can be designed and implemented.
A set of sequenced and paced activities, which integrate reflection and learning should be designed to realise the strategy, Jhaveri said.
Men and women experience forests in unique ways often due to traditional gender-defined roles and needs.
Women usually work in an informal and negotiated way to assert their tenure rights, while men generally hold positions of authority and make decisions on access, use and management of resources.
This scenario can leave women at an economic disadvantage because they typically have rights to such forest resources as fodder, fuelwood, medicinal plants and some non-timber forest products (NTFP) of commercial value, whereas men often have rights to forest resources with more cash value, including timber and high-value NTFP.
Disparities have an impact on the way forests are managed for community use, affecting the condition of ecosystems, food security, poverty reduction, livelihoods and the potential for income generation.
Yet, despite these commonalities, it is important to keep an open mind, Larson said.
“While we observe some similarities across the tropics in terms of gender roles, not all women are equally vulnerable or dependent on resource use and access,” Monterroso said. “Different sources of intersectional social differentiation based on ethnicity, age, caste, socio-economic condition or ability create obstacles to women in groups or individually.”
The value of community land tenure rights and gender agency through a gender-inclusive approach for climate change mitigation as well as adaptation was recognised in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) report on Climate Change and Land in 2019.
“The report is significant because it recognises that women are not a uniform group, and that an intersectional approach is required, valuing research that investigates the climate change-gender nexus so that rights-based interventions can be leveraged to create changes supporting adaptation and mitigation,” Larson said.
Myriad international conventions support women’s human rights, including the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 2012 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security and the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In the sourcebook, the scientists chart a brief history of how the role of women in forests has been perceived and how it has changed over the years since the 1980s.
The earlier approach adopted by practitioners involving a women and development perspective has now been replaced by a gender and development perspective, Jhaveri said.
“This approach means that women are not the sole focus,” she added. “Instead, it emphasises the vital importance of understanding existing gendered power relations. It’s not simply about how women and men relate, but also includes consideration of what it means to be a woman or a man.”
These roles and relationships are defined at the household, community and policy level, which is why change is so difficult, she added, explaining that the guide provides a thorough review, while at the same time demonstrating how mechanisms address challenges at multiple levels.
Foundations for change are created by analysing the gender gaps in specific contexts and the laws influencing actual practices in community-based forest tenure regimes.
While gender mainstreaming has been the basis of much work to build gender equality, Jhaveri proposes a gender-transformative approach that involves carefully crafting the pathways between interventions that promote “reach, benefit and empowerment.”
Accelerating forest tenure reform for gender equality and women’s empowerment requires a broad vision that sets into motion inclusive as well as women-focused and men-focused change pathways, she said.
Such gender-responsive initiatives are considered more effective for mobilising change for women and men by assessing the role of multiple change agents such as the state, non-governmental organisations, federations, women’s organisations and researchers involved in tenure reform.
“It’s critical to note that community forest tenure reform is a cyclical process of continuous improvement that builds security across multiple dimensions of tenure regimes,” Larson said. “It’s not a one-shot deal, rather, coordinated momentum must be established for effective and lasting transformation.”
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