The overall objective of the Seminar entitled "Integrating the Gender Perspective into Participatory Forestry" was to analyze the progress made in this field, in order to reach concrete recommendations.
It was possible to organize this Seminar thanks to the joint efforts of three FAO forestry projects in Ecuador financed by the Dutch Government. The Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTP); the Project for Community Forestry in the Andes of Ecuador (DFC); and the Project to Support the Implementation of Ecuador's Forestry Action Plan (PAFE). The Seminar was held in Cuenca, Ecuador from October 2 through 6, 1995. Its 52 participants, women and men, professionals and technicians, arrived from 12 countries. All of them work in international agencies, governmental institutions and NGOs that are implementing forestry and natural resource management projects from a gender perspective.
This Seminar was preceded by the Workshop on "Participatory Forestry with a Gender Approach", attended by men and women representing 11 peasant organizations of Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Its results will be disseminated in another publication. Here, we will present only the main points discussed.
Gender, the term on which the Seminar's discussions hinged, is a concept that brings people together and drives them apart. It revitalizes reflection in the field of forestry development, it puts theory into practice, and poses new, unexplored ways for the social and natural sciences to inter-relate. This concept enables us to question approaches, methodologies and practices that have traditionally been used to formulate and implement forestry projects, and to discover new obstacles that will arise in these projects.
Facts have revealed that the integration of the gender approach into forestry in Latin America began no longer than a decade ago. Findings are, therefore, provisional: this is a process that is still under construction. The papers presented and conclusions by the four working groups show the problems faced in applying this approach, as well as the potential that it opens up, at various levels and in different forums. The fragmentation and isolation of actions implemented by forestry projects are the two problems most often mentioned by those who participated in this seminar, during the four days of experience sharing and reflection.
The Seminar organizers proposed a matrix for addressing the issue and orienting reflection, which made it possible to examine the themes from four perspectives. Thus, three cross-themes (the gender approach in forestry projects; methodologies and strategies used; and successes and limitations) intersected with the following viewpoints: peasant organizations; international cooperation; forestry projects; and national forestry policies. Since most of the participants work or have worked in forestry or natural resource management projects, discussions during all workshops departed from experiences in these projects. This predominance of the project perspective guided the reflection with respect to the approach, methodologies and strategies. It is not a coincidence that forestry projects dominated over the other three perspectives in the matrix; rather, it shows what actually happens in forestry development: the stakeholders are grouped around projects, policies are implemented through projects and international funding is channeled through projects. Thus, projects become the main instrument for action and the favored level of intervention. For this reason, integration of the gender approach into forestry policy and research has received less attention.
Because of the importance of forestry projects during working group discussions, we have organized the conclusions respecting this emphasis. We shall present below the problem areas that have emerged constantly in group discussions, which completes and broadens the recommendations that each produced and presented.
In order to be able to advance in the integration of the gender perspective, it is necessary to overcome the fragmentation characterizing the project cycle; at present, there is little coherence among the phases of formulation, implementation and evaluation. The gender approach is included in project assessment and planning, but not in project implementation or evaluation. It is very important to consider the gender approach in the monitoring of project's activities.
Another problem is that forestry projects have been developed as if it were islands amidst rural development and as if forestry were an autonomous territory. No close relationship is established between forestry and rural development in general, taking other community needs --which are often high priorities-- into account as well. Relating forestry with other agricultural needs and activities makes it easier to work with women and incorporate the gender approach into activities.
The proposal that elicited the greatest response was by Susan Paulson, who suggests adopting an integrated, holistic approach that embrace forests, ecosystems and human beings. Looking into reality from integrated perspectives corresponds better to the complexity and heterogeneity of communities where projects are implemented; it also makes it possible to bring together the people's demands and interests, when forestry is seldom a top priority for them. It is also necessary to relate forestry with areas such as food, energy, agriculture, marketing, and others.
Another conclusion is that gender should not be viewed as just another component of forestry projects, separately from project actions, but rather as an approach involving all activities. This will avoid isolating the gender approach, and help to integrate it.
Projects take shape through goals and objectives that are highly oriented toward forestry, whereas communities base their needs on broader, more complex realities. Probably, integrated approaches will help to reach a balance, where there is currently existing the above mentioned discrepancy.
There is tension between the rigid scheme prevailing in project formulation and implementation and the great flexibility required to apply the gender approach and participatory methodologies. In most cases, projects favor to comply with their objectives rather than fulfill those demands that arise in the field as a result of applying these methodologies. When this is the case, it will be more difficult to integrate the gender perspective.
A key element in participatory methodologies is that the gender approach has to be included. Similarly, a gender approach must begin with participatory methods.
Often, in the eagerness to accelerate integration of gender into forestry projects, there is a tendency to overestimate the potential of methodologies. Field staff frequently lose sight of the fact that these methodologies are a means to an end and not an end in themselves, and that they must also be adapted to the characteristics of each project. Many field staff still demand blueprints for their projects, and cannot figure out how to adapt available methodologies to the specific context they are working on and particular situations with women. This also calls for better training.
Field staff apply participatory methodologies without considering social differences between women and men. Thus, without realizing it, they increase men's privileges in forestry projects. Methodologies should be useful to design a strategy that takes into consideration the inequalities of all kinds --gender, social, ethnic-- and deliver new ways to promote change. Fear to explicitly identify discrimination against women is based in the false assumption that such clear talk will generate conflicts in communities and that conflict per se is negative, a serious error, as described in the presentation by Ayales.
Since participatory methodologies are just recently being developed, they must be enriched with peasant women's and men's particular experience and knowledge. Systematization and dissemination of experiences and methodologies that have been successfully validated should also be encouraged, as this perfects and broadens the field in which these instruments can be applied.
At present, much more knowledge is needed to apply the gender approach to the implementation and follow-up phases. Evaluation must be constantly executed, together with women and men of participating communities.
Finally, it was concluded that applying participatory methodologies with the gender approach in communities implies, in practice, an extra effort. This signifies spending more time in meetings; including someone in the team who speaks the native language; and investing more time in the organization of meetings, so that women will participate as well.
The only point where there was disagreement among the groups had to do with the impact that the gender approach has had on peasant organizations, and these organizations' grasp of this concept. Whereas one group maintained that peasant organizations comprehend the difference between the gender approach and the women's approach, the other groups stated that the predominant tendency is to use the terms woman and gender as if they were synonyms, both at this level of organizations and in the field of forestry policy. This means that the "women's" approach is attempting to improve women's situation without touching on inequitable gender relations, whereas the main purpose of the gender approach is to transform man-woman relationships.
One group commented that peasant organizations are receptive and willing to adopt the gender approach, whereas the other three insisted that gender is a strange concept to them, and that organizations feel that it has been imposed on them by outside institutions. This explains their resistance or, at least, lack of interest in adopting it. The masculine nature of peasant organizations, reflected by the predominance of male leadership, increases this lack of interest. Such leaders make no effort to share their public positions, or the corresponding power, with women nor do they have any faith in women's leadership capacity.
Another problem mentioned by the working groups in the Seminar, but above all in the workshop of peasant organization representatives, are conflicts and resistance within households. Men, fathers and husbands mistrust their daughters and wives when they participate and assume leadership in forestry project activities. Many women promoters leave their positions because of problems with their husbands. The use of participatory methodologies makes it possible to analyze this type of situations and sensitize men and women about limitations caused by unequal gender relations.
Resistance can also be due to frustrations caused by the negative results of many projects, which has generated lack of confidence among peasant organizations and development institutions. The findings of forestry projects may be much more positive when they choose to use participatory methods with the gender approach throughout the project cycle.
It was interesting to see that the pressure applied by international cooperation to integrate the gender approach in countries and to use participatory methods, was appraised positively by the groups.
By contrast, they questioned the lack of negotiation among development institutions, national organizations and international co operation agencies over the choice of areas of action, objectives, goals and components in forestry projects. There was agreement that NGOs, peasant organizations and, in general, national institutions receiving international funds participate little or not at all in defining priorities. International cooperation is rigid about setting criteria for project implementation, and this rigidity interfers with any sort of participatory planning. International cooperation also fails to take into account that participatory processes and incorporation of the gender approach take more time and effort than vertical planning. Another aspect that international cooperation does not consider is that the results cannot and should not always be measured by quantitative parameters -- qualitative parameters are important too.
As a result of this unparticipatory attitude and pre-defined goals, activities are sometimes funded that are not community priorities, just because they are important for the international donors.
This arrangement, clearly vertical, curbs integration of the gender approach into forestry projects and prevents equitable consideration of national counterparts' heterogeneous interests in international cooperation policies.
For the time being, participatory assessments are being emphasized, in order to obtain information about the links between gender and forestry. The scope and depth of knowledge gathered this way is quite specific and conjunctural, since it is restricted to information required by projects. There is a major gap in knowledge about gender relationships and the application of this approach in regard to the use of natural resources. This situation can no longer be avoided, since project sustainability and success largely depend on it.
Given the rigid style and logical structure characterizing forestry projects, generation of knowledge must transcend these frameworks. Knowledge must be produced not only from a gender approach, but under an integrated, holistic vision that will help break up the traditional dichotomy separating social and natural sciences. Another problem mentioned by participants is that project staff who formulate, implement and evaluate forestry projects have little contact with researchers who work on the linkage between gender and natural resources, in disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. Evidently, this gap between academic research and development planning prevents both sectors from being nourished and enriched by progress made in each other's fields.
Similarly, in production of knowledge, and not only in the implementation of activities, women and men involved in projects must participate. This is the only way to make it possible to recognize diversity, different ways of looking at the world, multiple forms of truth, and diverse wisdoms of different stakeholders.
To prevent information from being left in the hands of a very few people, as so often happens, it is necessary to establish clear dissemination mechanisms, so that knowledge can reach out to a wider circle, which must include beneficiary women.
The strategies most commonly used to overcome resistances have been sensitization and training for forestry project teams, and community men and women. Seminar participants have confirmed that resistances persist and the terms woman and gender are still being confused. This situation makes it obligatory to intensify activities of sensitization and training for peasant organization leaders, project technicians/extension workers, and community men. It would also be worthwhile to extend these activities to other levels, such as national policies and development institutions. A good strategy mentioned by participants is to employ gender experts at all levels of a governmental organization, not only for activity implementation but also on the board of directors or other decision-making positions. Only when gender specialists occupy a strategic place in institutions, will there be the openness to take the gender approach into account.
A strategy of this nature will make it possible to strike a balance between the project level and policy level of intervention. Much of the current backwardness in integration of the gender perspective in forestry policy is due to the fact that development institutions, especially international cooperation, have concentrated support and financing on forestry projects, neglecting policy development. In forestry policy, it is crucial for gender not to be considered as an isolated component, but rather as a cross-theme concerning all policies on natural resource protection, use and management.
Another obstacle weakening the legitimation of the gender approach in forestry, and creating confusion in this field, is the lack of coordination among international cooperation agencies, and between these agencies and national entities receiving funding (government, NGOs and peasant organizations) in regard to policies, strategies and activities that each promotes in gender issues.
So far, coordination has been sporadic, short-term, highly conjunctural, and heavily dependent on individual initiatives. What has predominated, rather, is competition among international agencies As a result , research and experiences are repeated and errors are duplicated.
Adoption of a multi-level strategy will help improve institutional coordination mechanisms and make it easier to achieve projects sustainability.