By Ratchada Arpornsilp, Country Program Coordination Officer, RECOFTC
International Women’s Day is 8 March. This year RECOFTC is launching the new report ‘Mainstreaming gender into forest policies in Asia and the Pacific’ which was developed as a part of the regional initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. It aims to shed light on how gender perspectives are being integrated or mainstreamed in the forest policies of eight countries – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The report and policy briefs for each of the eight countries included in the study are available at http://www.recoftc.org/reports/mainstreaming-gender-forest-policies-asia-and-pacific
While countries in Asia and the Pacific have made progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment, women’s participation and representation in forest management structures and decision-making process still have a way to go. RECOFTC’s new report asks: to what extent has women’s rights to access and control over forest resources been recognized and addressed in forest policies and laws?
All of the studied countries are signatory to key international instruments that promote women’s rights – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Fiji is the only country that has not signed UNDRIP. While a number of national efforts have been developed in each country, with regards to gender concerns in forest policies, the key findings from the report are as follows:
- Cambodia – The Forestry Law provides a legal framework for the involvement of user-groups in forest management and protection but different needs, priorities, capacities and customary practices of women and men have not been recognized. Although the Sub-decree on Community Forestry (CF) Management encourages women’s participation in CF Management Committees, no specific quota is guaranteed.
- Fiji – Inclusion of women in the Forest Decree and National Forest Policy Statement is unclear due to an absence of gender-specific guidelines to enhance women’s participation and representation in forestry.
- Indonesia – The President Instruction in 2000 instructs all government agencies to mainstream gender throughout the development process of policies and programs. But it is far from being adopted in any specific forestry regulations or laws.
- Nepal –Nepal commenced to acknowledge women’s inclusion in community forestry in its Master Plan for the Forest Sector, forest law and regulation. A Gender and Social Inclusion Strategy and associated monitoring framework were developed, following by an amendment of CF Guidelines which mandate the composition of 50% women represented in CF Users’ Groups executive committees.
- The Philippines – The National forest strategy and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act are people-oriented and have recognized the rights of people living in forest lands, ensuring access to forest resources for forest-dependent communities, including women. The Community-based Forest Management strategy mandates 30% representation of women in its committees.
- Sri Lanka – The Forest Sector Master Plan emphasizes the empowerment of people and rural communities to manage and protect forests for multiple uses, but has no specific recognition of gender differences. The Forest Department so far has no gender strategy to facilitate women’s inclusion in forestry planning and interventions.
- Thailand – Recognition of women’s rights, participation and representation, as well as gender differences, in forest management and decision-making remains absent in laws governing forest protection and management. In implementing some of these laws, such as the National Parks Act, women’s subsistence and income generation are hindered with the denial of access to forest resources.
- Viet Nam – The Law on Forest Protection and Development provides equal land rights to men and women and the National Forest Strategy acknowledges the need for promoting a gender focal point unit, gender-sensitive research and capacity development of forestry officials.
In general, the report considers Nepal and the Philippines to be relatively progressive. Nonetheless, all countries still face common challenges, including 1) lack of legal framework or implementation gaps if the laws have already incorporated gender considerations; 2) lack of evidence-based research on gender and gender-disaggregated data in forestry; 3) limited technical expertise and resource availability for effective implementation and advocacy; 4) imbalanced representation of gender in leadership and decision-making positions; 5) deep-rooted gendered norms and cultural prejudices that reinforce male domination in forestry activities.
These challenges seem to always be present and there is nothing new about them. The assessment simply unpacks and supports them with more evidence. It is time to implement some practical steps to move forward. Recommendations include:
- Hold national and sub-national consultations and dialogues to discuss and keep abreast of the issues and gaps in existing policies and practices as well as facilitate multi-stakeholder exchanges and platforms for advocacy.
- Knowledge generation and understanding on gender rights, roles and responsibilities among forestry officials and communities.
- Gender working groups and women’s representation with clear functions and obligations to raise women’s leadership roles and participation in decision-making.
- Gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation systems to develop gender-disaggregated data necessary for policy planning and implementation.
- Gender-responsive budgets that provide specific budget allocation for gender relevant activities.
It is important to note that gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself but a process toward gender equality. One small action from each of us can aggregately make a difference. RECOFTC strongly believes that women’s empowerment is a key component of sustainable forest management. Thus in collaboration with its partners, RECOFTC continues working to strengthen social and gender equity in all aspects of community forestry.