Forest protection and management policies, including co-management strategies that promote local governance, may inadvertently increase the hardships of women by depriving them of access to forests. JFM strategies must be cognizant of the specific ways women use forests and how those uses may differ from those of men. For JFM to be sustainable, it is vital to recognize that women's multiple use of forests is an important means of ensuring the survival of tribal households as well as conservation of biodiversity (Wickramasinghe, 1994). If the gender dimensions of forest use are overlooked, even well-intentioned community management strategies may have negative impact on the lives of tribal women. Research results show that income from forests comprises more than 50 percent of the household income and women are largely responsible for its provision. When rights to control and use of village commons and forests are severely curtailed it undermines the ability of women to deal with forest degradation and limits their ability to take action against unsustainable use of their village forests.
Giving women a greater role in co-management of forests increases their collective bargaining power. Collective bargaining is critical for women in rural India to assert a greater say in the way resources are managed, to negotiate rules and conditions for use of community controlled forests, and to dictate norms of behavior vis-à-vis the forest (Agarwal, 1994a). In establishing norms of behavior governing community forests, women avoid a situation where they are subjected to norms of forest use and extraction that are untenable; norms which can turn women into offenders and undermine their ability to secure much needed forest resources. The state has a very important role to play in this regard. Simply devolving responsibility for village forests to the community will not ensure that the interests of women are protected. Someshwar (1993, p. 204) highlighted the importance of the state:
"In an unequal society, decentralization of decision making does not necessarily result in decision making by all sections of the population. More than likely, the disempowered groups would continue to be outside any such process. In such a situation, social institutions that give voice to the disempowered must be actively promoted. Although such institutions need to function independently from the state, the state has to play an active role in facilitating their formation. Contrary to current perceptions regarding the role of the state, management of natural resources cannot and should not be completely divorced from the state."
In the final analysis, gender sensitive forest and JFM policies should ask:
Is the relationship of women with the forests distinct from that of men'? Distinction may be in the way forests are used, the time spent in collecting resources, income derived from forests, management, conservation, and protection of forests.
What should be the role of women in the management, protection of forests and biodiversity conservation in general once these distinctions are determined?
In discussing the social dynamics of deforestation, Barraclough and Ghimire (1995, p. 206) observed that, "effective strategies to protect forests and livelihoods imply negotiating some kind of social consensus about criteria concerning land use in forest regions and the values to the society that can be derived from forests. They also imply a broad social consensus about the basic rights and opportunities that should be enjoyed, and the responsibilities taken, by different individuals and social groups."