International Women’s Day (March 8) is an opportunity to call for global action to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, especially in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, for IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme and Global Gender Office, it is also an opportunity to acknowledge the ordinary women who play an important – yet often unrecognized – role in community forest management and forest landscape restoration. By the Global Gender Office's Maria Prebble.
Forests serve multifunctional purposes for both nature and humans. And human reliance on forests – for necessities such as food and fuel wood – offers opportunities to address gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. IUCN explores this link in the recent publication Paving the Way Forward for Gender-Responsive FLR: Leveling the Playing Field for Local Farmers in Uganda, a case study of a forest landscape restoration (FLR) project in Sanzara, Uganda, and reveals how ensuring gender equality within FLR strategies brings achieving the SDGs one step closer.
FLR is a process that balances strengthening and restoring ecological functions with the current and future needs of a landscape and the communities that rely on it. For example, restoring forests’ natural services, such as soil retention, helps ensure native food trees receive essential nutrients and improved water capture, thus improving a community’s food security (SDG 2).
Furthermore, many forest activities such as hunting and gathering fruits are often defined by gender roles. Social, political and legal frameworks may determine men and women’s access and control over forest resources and participation in environmental decision-making processes. But the FLR approach places emphasis on engaging all relevant stakeholders under the principle that all land users – women and men, public and private land owners, local and national policy makers, and everyone in between – has an important role to play in rebuilding a healthy landscape (SDG 16).
Under the Sanzara FLR project in Uganda, IUCN partnered with government ministries, UN agencies and civil society organizations to build Sanzara’s resilience to climate change and better understand the gender dimensions of FLR. As part of this project, the FLR approach includes components to ensure the availability of clean freshwater (SDG 6). For communities like Sanzara, who are vulnerable to water shortages, an FLR approach sustains forests’ capacity to act as a natural water filter, protect against soil erosion and reduce the effects of floods.
Both men and women attend technical training sessions at Sanzara’s Community Learning Center farm, which operates as a cooperative. Thirty community members—18 women and 12 men—work side by side on the farm, learning strategies to restore and protect the community’s degraded watershed, such as more efficient irrigation techniques.
The forest services and restorative strategies learned at the community center are particularly beneficial to women and girls, who disproportionately bear the burden of water collection and are more likely to be the victims in flooding events. In addition, this convenient access to safe and clean water gives women and girls more time for education (SDG 4), income-generating activities or leisure, important aspects of promoting gender equality and empowering women (SDG 5).
In Sanzara, more than half of the total participants in the technical training programs offered through the community learning center were women. Participants also manage a communal fund, providing women with the opportunity to borrow finances to invest in infrastructure for their personal farmsteads (SDG 1). Additionally, men and women are encouraged to equally divide farm responsibilities, such as planting and weeding, to ensure equitable participation and benefit sharing among all stakeholders.
Increasing women’s effective and full participation in community decision-making not only empowers women to manage natural resources, but also results in more sustainable development outcomes—including increased forest coverage (SDG15). In Sanzara, women from the community center trainings formed a group to discuss other pertinent community development issues, including education and health (SDG 3).
FLR approaches are an effective mechanism to address the diverse development challenges in the forest sector. In the implementation of FLR processes, it is critical that the design of activities and projects are gender-responsive: taking into account men and women’s different needs, knowledge and priorities, and also promoting women’s participation and decision making throughout all project aspects.
IUCN is identifying the entry points for mainstreaming gender in FLR in other communities around the world. For example, in Armenia, women’s roles in collecting fuel wood drive forest degradation, yet women are excluded from decision-making processes. In Brazil, IUCN is working with local women to ensure that a culturally significant tree species is harvested sustainably in order to continue receiving the trees’ ecological, nutritional and economic value.
The experiences in Uganda, Armenia and Brazil all demonstrate that ensuring the crosscutting gender dimensions in FLR approaches can result in gender equality and strengthened community resilience, helping pave the way to achieving the SDGs.
This project was supported by UKAid from the UK Government through IUCN's Knowfor Programme.