Source: Sarin, M: The Potential Role of Rural Women's Organisations in Natural Resource
Management. In 'Local Organisations in Community Forestry Extension in Asia'.
There have been a number of women's groups active in Dharampur Block in Solan District partly due to the efforts of an NGO, SUTRA, which started to work there in 1976. Among other things, the NGO was involved in upgrading the skills of traditional midwives and training women as improved stove builders. By 1985 SUTRA decided that they could not do a great deal more in the way of conventional projects to build up women's organisations, but that they needed to create their own spaces where women could share common hardships and evolve strategies to deal with them. Two inputs were required for women's empowerment: access to information, and opportunities for women to spend time away from home, to reflect on their problems and to build self-confidence. They therefore brought the various local women's groups into contact with each other, and for the first time women began to realise that the problems they faced were not individual, but common to many women. 90% of the population lives in scattered villages of not more than 15 houses and women and girls sustain agricultural production. They receive no pay for this as it is family labour and in fact it is often not considered work at all. One study showed that women do 75% of agricultural work in the fields, 90% of the livestock-related work (gathering fodder, milking) and 95% of the housekeeping work.
In this area there is very little common or shamilat land for firewood gathering, since the government took over a large part of this in 1971 for distribution to the landless. The remaining part was handed over to the forest department to manage on behalf of the villagers. They fenced it and planted it with non-browsable species (thus, those that did not produce fodder), while some private owners acquired land and planted it with fast growing timber species.
In the drought year of 1987, SUTRA tried to motivate women to plant trees, since the women were then walking 20 km to get one headload of fodder. Water was also difficult to obtain. SUTRA introduced the idea of multipurpose trees, and provided seedlings. The members of the women's groups were asked to send lists of plants they required.
At the same time, information was gathered about what women traditionally knew about tree management, which was considerable - women knew hundreds of species by name and by sight, and could list thousands of uses; they knew how much fodder could be cut from different sorts of trees to maintain the maximum output, for example.
However, when the seedlings arrived, few were taken by the women and of those that were taken, few survived. Analysis showed that the women were simply too busy during the rainy season to plant the trees. The areas with the greatest potential for growing trees are the privately owned grazing lands since here the trees will not compete with valuable food or cash crops. But these are far from the home and difficult to protect. In general, there is a shortage of fodder types of trees on these lands, brought about by the men's cutting of any trees with commercial value, for timber. Thus, the women were afraid the same fate would befall their newly planted trees. The men after all have the last word on the management of resources on family property. The men were not at all concerned fodder trees.
SUTRA then realised they had made a classic error in formulation their strategy. Simply because women have the primary responsibility for gathering biomass for fodder and fuel does not mean that they should be considered responsible for replenishing the source. By asking the women to plant trees, SUTRA was increasing their work levels, but not their control over the use of the trees.
This led to a new strategy, to give women more power over the land and decisions on how to use it. At the household level, and with regard to private landholdings, it was not possible for the NGO to intervene in traditional distribution of power between men and women. But they started to work on getting women collective control over common lands, still in the power of the forest department. Up to then, the forest department consulted the village Panchyat (council) about the types of trees to be planted on the shamilat land, but the Panchyat was solidly male, with the result that commercial timber species were always planted. Various women's groups began to oppose this strategy; one group passed a resolution that unless the forest department planted at least 50% fodder species, they would uproot all the trees and replace them with fodder crops. Notification of this was sent to forest officials. In one village the women were able for force the forest department to take down a fence they had erected around some common land; they then worked out a plan for increasing the area's productivity and asked the forest department to implement it for them. They also demanded that in future the forest department should consult the women's organisations as well as the Panchyat, and later this was taken further; the government should give the women's organisations all the power and responsibility for deciding how shamilat land should be developed. In this they were helped by the NGO who provided a lawyer to help them fight for their rights. The issue was not yet resolved at the time the article was written, but the experience demonstrates that once women's organisations join together, they can influence natural resource policies at the state level.
Exercise for Case Study G
This case study is an example of an attempt not just to help women meet their needs more easily, for fodder and fuel, but to empower them in other ways. The long term aim of the sponsoring NGO was clearly to emancipate women, to meet their strategic needs as well as their practical ones.
The group should divide into three parts: one subgroup will represent the Panchyat, one subgroup the women's organisation, and one the forest department officials.
Each subgroup has 20 minutes to prepare for a court hearing in which the women will plea for full rights over the common land. Each subgroup should prepare its case and be prepared to give evidence in the hearing. After preparing an argument, it should be decided which member will present it and how. None of the such groups has a professional lawyer. The trainer will play the part of the judge, and the matter will be decided by him in the light of the quality of the arguments presented on all sides.
The participants were divided into three groups, to represent the women's organization, the forest department and the village council (panchayat). The groups were deliberately formed in such a way that its members would be arguing a case they usually do not. In this way, it was expected, it would be possible to judge what the participants had absorbed from the training course. All the men were put in one group to represent the women's organization. Those women who were foresters and some others were formed into the village council. The rest of the women were asked to represent the forest department. The exercise was conducted by Dr. Anoja Wickramasinghe, who also acted as the judge.
The arguments presented by each group are given below.
On behalf of the women's organization the following arguments were put forward in the original statement.
Both men and women had equal rights to the village common land.
But the women were not consulted when the decision was taken to transfer the land to the forest department
Women were users of the common land for grazing their animals and for collecting firewood
No decision could be taken to usurp them of these rights.
Environmental and Socio-economic
The forest department has been ignoring fodder and fuelwood species, which is having an adverse effect on land conservation, wildlife habitat, environment and livestock
This is adversely affecting the socio-economic condition and health of the people.
Women constitute more than 50% of the population and have the potential to contribute to the benefit and welfare of the household by producing more meat and milk
Women also look after the household needs for fodder and firewood.
Both men and women have equal rights and equal potential for socio-economic betterment
Women should take part in decision making.
The women's organization should be empowered to manage the land and forest resources, because as compared to the government department this NGO has a better ability to manage it and does not suffer from bureaucratic delays.
On behalf of the village council (panchayat) the following arguments were put forward.
It is against our culture and traditions for women to go outside the home. It is out of the question for them to go to the forest to work
If women go out to the forest, then who will look after the family. The children will suffer.
Women are already very busy in the home. After completing their domestic jobs, they do not have the time to go and work outside.
What can be done?
Village men have always looked after the interests of timber in the forest. Let them continue to do this
If women want fuelwood, this can be supplied by growing fuel species as an agroforestry system in the homestead
From the time of our ancestors it has always been that we men have looked after timber in the forest. This system is good enough and does not need to be changed.
On behalf of the forest department, the arguments were:
The government has handed over the land to the forest department
We have spent a lot of money in fencing
We have planted trees in order to earn more revenue for the government
We consulted the village council on the kind of trees that are to be planted. It was they who
advised us that they wanted only timber trees
Both men and women will benefit from commercial timber production
Once you grow commercial timber trees, they will benefit the women's husbands
When your husbands benefit, then automatically the women and the children will also benefit
Further, with more revenue from commercial timber, the government will be able to under-take more welfare and social expenditures, which will have a direct impact on women's welfare
We respect the feelings of the women. But the village council has been elected by all of you
For day-to-day fodder and fuel needs, women can be accommodated in the community forestry programme. But the timber forest should remain as it is.
Following the presentation of the main arguments, there was a second round of discussion. The women's organization argued:
The village council says that our tradition does not allow women do go out of the home. But tradition must change. We cannot agree that culture remains the same eternally
About women's burden of housework, it is true that women are overburdened. But why must we alone bear this burden. If women work outside the home, then men will have to share some of the burden of housework
Studies show that women do 75% of agricultural work, 90% of livestock labour and 95% of domestic work. This overwork of women must change and men must take on more of these burdens. Men must also look after babies, so that the family does not suffer
This is the era of privatization. Everywhere it has been seen that government projects have failed
If you give the forest land to the village council, then you can see that the men will plant only timber trees. The needs of fodder and fuel will suffer
Now is the time to give the women's organizations a chance to show what they can do.
The village council objected to the suggestion that men could look after babies.
Men are already overworked and engaged in other important activities
So it is not possible for men to look after the babies at home, while women go to the forest.
The forest department reiterated that
Government property, the forest, cannot be privatized
If the women don't like the village council, then they can change it
But the forest department can only deal with the village council and not with a women's organization.
As pointed out by some participants in the evaluation, the arguments, particularly those put forward by the solely men's group representing the women's organization, showed that they had understood the main points about gender analysis and the problems and needs of women. This was confirmation that participants had learnt something about the methods of gender analysis. That, of course, is something very different from saying that they were convinced about the correctness of these analyses.
At the end of the course, participants were asked to work in country groups to formulate relevant projects incorporating gender aspects into wood energy development. Participants spent the better part of one morning in working on these project proposals. They even cut into their lunch time to be able to complete the exercise. But, in the end, the deadline of the formal closing meant that there was no time at all for discussion of the project proposals.