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What is community forestry and why include women?

Ideally, community forestry activities are those that:

- recognize the intimate relationship of women, men and the trees that surround them;

- build upon local knowledge of women and men about management and uses of forest resources;

- take into consideration the forest and tree resource needs of the various community members and focus on increasing the benefits from forests for rural women and men, especially the poor;

- involve rural women and men in project identification, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Community forestry has challenged foresters, forest services and forestry schools to re-think their roles and broaden their concept of forestry to include goals relating to trees as a resource to satisfy local needs. For many foresters this means a new perspective; one that enables them to design forestry programmes that are more relevant to their countries' overall development priorities.

Throughout community forestry, there are two themes:

- community forestry uses a systems approach and draws on many fields such as anthropology, agriculture, nutrition and law;

- community forestry focuses on the interaction of people with trees and forests.

The long walk home - gathering fuelwood in Nepal

The links between trees and economic, cultural and environmental factors of people's lives are seen in three crucial areas:

- Trees have an impact on rural women and men by providing products which satisfy basic needs of the family;

- Trees affect the economic lives of rural peoples by providing income and jobs;

- Trees have an important role in protecting and enriching the environment.

The ways trees perform these three functions for people may be different, depending on the person's socio-economic status, age and socio-cultural environment. Additionally there are some differences which are largely gender specific.

For example, in some cultures certain tree species are considered men's trees; others are considered women's. Women and men often have different views of the importance of various forest resources. A woman's first concern may be to find enough tree and forest products to satisfy the immediate family needs. Men's first concern may be for forest products that are primarily sources of cash.

Although many women are also interested in cash, in some areas they may not be allowed to participate in forest based income generating activities. In fact, even where both men and women may earn money from forest products, those sold by men and women often differ. But there is no universal generalization and information cannot be transferred from one area to another even about which gender will harvest or sell a specific product.

Watering seedlings in a Thai nursery

In Indonesia, for example, rattan is harvested in certain areas by women alone, in some areas by men alone and in still other areas by men and women together. A rattan project in any area would need to confirm the gender of their specific client. Although women generally collect domestic fuelwood, in some areas men are involved in this task. Studies show, however, that men generally have a less active role in collecting wild foods (other than hunting wild animals) and use tertiary tree products somewhat less than women. The point is that, in light of important differences in men's and women's use of forest resources and the general lack of project input on the part of women, it is essential that women's needs be specifically examined.

Jamaican women have persuaded men to support reforestation

Women's needs require special consideration:

- because women are active users and managers of forest and tree resources, but as forestry is considered a man's field, women's roles are often invisible to project designers and to policy makers;

- because women and men often have differing uses for forest resources, which influence their motives for participating in various forestry activities;

- because women may have special cultural constraints in regard to land and natural resources (beyond those that men have), which may hamper their ability to participate in decision making and project activities;

- because of simple justice and equity.

This document assumes that the reader is familiar with data gathering tools and project design and does not pretend to be a guide to rapid appraisal or project formulation. Instead it gives ideas on how those designing and implementing community forestry projects can enhance their work by more actively considering women.

If community forestry activities and programmes are to be successful they have to be designed in a manner sensitive to the range of needs of women in mind. In order to ensure that projects achieve their immediate purposes and their broader socio-economic goals, and in order to maximize the economic returns on project investment, those who design and implement projects will need to:

- see women;
- ask women the right questions;
- implement a process to include women.

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