International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women making history. Today, the voices of women in Africa are being heard as they engage in action to limit climate change through deforestation.
With carbon emissions from forest loss estimated to account for about 20% of human-induced emissions, conserving forests is critical to tackling climate change. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a scheme under the United Nations climate convention, offers incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.
In many parts of the world communities depend on forests as a source of fuel, food, medicines and shelter, and forests are home to nearly 90% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. Forest resources directly support the livelihoods of 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, 70% of which are women.
“Women have enormous potential as agents of positive change and their leadership is critical when discussing climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. Yet women face daily conditions that limit their full participation,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Adviser on Gender.
REDD+ goes further to include the conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
More than 100 women from various women groups in Cameroon, Ghana and Uganda are now involved in the development of national strategies on REDD+ in their respective countries. They believe that the involvement of women as equal partners in REDD+ decision-making and implementation is fundamental to its objectives of equity, legitimacy, effectiveness and efficiency.
“The number of women in environmental decision-making is limited, but where women are involved, better environmental management of community forestry resources and actions to improve access to education and clean water have been some of the best results,” Aguilar explains.
Research shows that:
• Women in rural areas are responsible for collecting water in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries.
• Women account for two-thirds of 774 million adult illiterates in the world. This limits their access to information and vocational options and their ability to adapt to environmental degradation.
• Women comprise 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, yet they have less access to resources such as land, credit, technology and opportunities.
• A recent study in 141 countries found that in societies where gender inequality is high, more women than men die when disasters strike.
While REDD+ presents potential benefits for communities it also presents potentially serious negative outcomes, especially for women who rely on forest resources for their families’ livelihoods. Women and men have different roles, use, access and control of forest resources. Men are more likely to be involved in harvesting forest products for commercial purposes (timber and poles). Women typically gather forest products for fuel, food, handicraft raw materials, medicinal herbs and livestock fodder, all of which increase family income. But women’s rights and access to trees and forest products is constrained by social or cultural factors.
“The current REDD+ process has been very weak with respect to the gender dimension and its impact on women; it is critical to address this gap,” says Aguilar.
Under pro-poor REDD+ projects funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) IUCN is helping to develop gender and REDD+ ‘Road Maps’ in Cameroon, Ghana and Uganda. This allows women in these countries to improve their knowledge of forests and their ecological function, climate change and its different impacts on women and men, and understand the implications of REDD+ for them and their countries.
Women are now involved in REDD+ pilot schemes in each country and are part of national discussions. They are making informed decisions and contributing to forest conservation and management.
“There is still much work to be done to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights are sufficiently considered in national REDD+ processes and implementation,” says Aguilar. “But it is a good start that will pave the way in facilitating a gender responsible REDD+ that can create a new legacy for girls and ensure that gender equality become a reality for them.”