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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has a long standing interest in forestry as a resource for rural development. Within the last decade, industrial exploitation and population pressure have led to the degradation of large areas of forest land. Rural peoples who rely on these forests and their outputs have been put at risk. In 1977, FAO started a special action programme, Forestry for Local Community Development, that sought to address the needs of rural people. The programme's philosophy was to support rural people who could benefit from forestry related activities in their efforts to improve their well-being. Conceptually, policy for forestry was about, for and by the people.1
Rural women are major caretakers and users of forests. Each day they walk long distances to gather fodder and fuelwood. They seek out fruits, nuts and small creatures for food for their families. They use bark, roots and herbs for medicines. Trees provide shade, beauty and environmental protection for their homes. Thus, trees and forests play a major role in their daily lives. Unfortunately, most forestry programmes are organized by men who may not understand women's relationship to forests. Forestry has typically been a man's profession and it is hard for many foresters to perceive of women as being competent in this field. Moreover women's needs regarding the forest often differ from those of men.
Rural women confront obstacles that limit their ability to participate in community development programmes. They frequently lack the self-confidence or a forum in which to speak up publicly for themselves and for their families. They often lack access to child care, credit, education and land tenure, which limits them more than it limits the men of their own families. These obstacles prevent them from being heard and from achieving a more powerful role in accessing and making decisions about tree and forest resource management.
In 1986 the FAO Community Forestry Unit developed a publication for policy makers, Restoring the balance: women and forest resources, that identifies issues and points out the importance of considering gender when designing community forestry programmes.2 This field guide translates Restoring the balance into a manual for those who design and implement forestry projects. It focuses on practical ways to include women in project design and implementation and is meant to be a tool to facilitate discussion, offer options and promote action on behalf of women and forestry. It has been produced by the Community Forestry Programme as part of the FAO Plan of Action for the Integration of Women in Development.
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