Mar 8

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – a day of celebrations that recognise the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future.  

With 2011 designated the International Year of Forests, this year’s International Women’s Day presents the opportunity to explore the role of women in forest conservation, and to assess how well we are doing in ensuring that women are well-represented in forest management.

Photo of woman harvesting Madagascar periwinkle

Woman harvesting Madagascar periwinkle.

Women sidelined in decision making 

Women are the main users of forests in developing countries – gathering food and firewood. The sale of non-timber forest products is also vital to the livelihood of many families. This means that women know the value of forests best, and that women have more at stake than men when forests are cut down or forest access is denied. 

“Taking a gender perspective in forestry has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with effective development and conservation: an awareness of the dynamics between men and women in forest resources can only help ensure that these resources are used sustainably and equitably,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Gender Advisor. 

Research shows that greater involvement of women in forest management usually improves forest condition and sustainability, but also that women continue to be sidelined in decision-making. The needs and concerns of women are often neglected because the ownership of forests is largely under the control of men. 

“It is worrying that despite women’s increasingly recognized contribution to forest management, they are not yet at the forefront of forestry decision-making,” said Esther Mwangi, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research.

Photo of Brazil-nut trees left standing amid deforestation

Brazil-nut trees left standing amid deforestation.

Call for women’s needs to be given higher priority 

Some progress has been made in promoting the role of women in forest management at national and international policy levels. However, massive gaps remain in implementing these changes on the ground. In many cases, women’s participation is limited to attendance and passive involvement, with women sitting in silence while men make the calls on forest management. 

The IUCN, as well as the Center for International Forestry Research, are therefore calling for women’s needs to be given higher priority and to form an integral part of the management of forests and their resources. 

“We need to start taking gender issues more seriously, not only to make our work more effective but also to redress gender imbalances by giving women a louder voice, strengthening women’s rights and ensuring that women get their fair share of benefits,” says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN’s Environment and Development Group.

Recognising and incorporating women as key allies in the struggle to protect our environment and dwindling natural resources will pay dividends for many generations to come. Increasing women’s capacity to act on their rights must be strengthened so that they are able to make demands for more involvement in decision-making processes in forest management and to ensure that rules and regulations are enforced.

Read the IUCN press release and the Center for International Forestry Research press release. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author