FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO, EGDC and Sida explore gender considerations in West Africa’s forestry sector

© FAO, Senegal

11 May 2021, Dakar Senegal - Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ECOWAS Gender Development Centre (EGDC), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) launched a publication on “Gender Equality and Forestry in West Africa: preliminary findings and recommendations for West African countries.” Produced under the project “Global Transformation of Forests for People and Climate: a focus on West Africa,” the new publication aims to identify gender challenges within the West African forestry sector, drawing its data from a gender analysis focused on ECOWAS’s 15 member countries. In addition, the brief provides preliminary recommendations to address these disparities.

Forests cover approximately 17 percent of West Africa, acting as a significant source of energy and  livelihoods for much of the region’s population. There are large variations in forest cover between countries, ranging from those with more than half of their territory forested (79 percent in Liberia; 70 percent in Guinea Bissau) to those with under 10 percent coverage (9 percent in Côte d’Ivoire; 1 percent in Niger).

“Despite the existing differences, rural women in West Africa, particularly those involved in forestry and agricultural production, face similar gender barriers including work burdens, varying access to land, energy resources, education, and more," says Astrid Agostini, FAO’s REDD+/NFM Cluster Coordinator. “By providing concrete analysis and recommendations, the new paper aims to improve gender dynamics, ultimately boosting the region’s efforts and capacities to protect and restore forests.”


West African gender landscape: preliminary findings and recommendations

To address gender inequalities, ECOWAS member states have committed to support women and development under Article 63 of the ECOWAS 1993 revised Treaty under which member states agree to “formulate, harmonize, coordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms, for enhancement of the economic, social and cultural conditions of women.”

Furthermore, ECOWAS member states have established the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre (EGDC), a regional agency responsible for promoting gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment in the region and implementing the ECOWAS Gender Policy.

“Many countries in the ECOWAS region have adopted international and regional legal instruments related to gender equality, says Gouantoueu Robert GUEI; FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa and Representative in Senegal. “These instruments include the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  To help advance the gender equality agenda, the FAO sub regional office is developing its gender strategy and action plan to ensure that gender is adequately mainstreamed in all its programs, strategies, policies and projects in the sub region particularly in the more male dominated sectors such as in forestry.

Throughout the region, there are several common gender barriers that limit women’s capacity to exercise their rights and contribute to the advancement of the forest sector to the best possible extent – work burden and gender-based violence, literacy rates, reliance on wood and non-wood forest products, lack of role-models, access to and control over land, forest and tree tenure security, unequal representation of men and women in forest governing institutions and bodies, and lack of availability and up-to-date sex-disaggregated data.

In addition, while national efforts to address gender-related issues have been made, including adopting international and regional agreements, in many cases, the implementation of these efforts remains a challenge.

“The steps needed to address gender-related challenges will differ among ECOWAS countries, as each country experiences unique factors that influence social and cultural norms, laws and policies, and the forestry sector, says Ulla Andrén, Head of Swedish Regional Development Cooperation in Africa. “Nevertheless, the new publication makes some proposals to help stimulate change.”

The suggestions include finalizing and implementing gender-responsive laws and policies, raising gender awareness, promoting women empowerment, reducing the risk of gender-based violence, and supporting women’s cooperatives involved with non-wood forest products’ processing and marketing. The paper further suggests initiatives to address wood energy needs that alleviate women’s household burdens, boost security of women’s forest and land tenure, and encourage female youth to pursue studies in the forestry field through scholarships and quotas.  

“All these efforts need to be backed by formal and informal training and on the job skills acquisition,” says Bolanle Adetoun; Ag. Director of EGDC.  “For this reason, governments need to address women’s limited literacy and education levels and improve access to technology and skills acquisition, when disseminating information and practices regarding forestry or gender-responsive laws and policies.”

Finally, in many West African countries, increased sex-disaggregated data collection is needed. Targets should be set to achieve a better balance of men and women in forest governing bodies, and women’s access to forests and related benefits must be safeguarded. By implementing a combination of these actions, ECOWAS countries can begin to move towards greater gender equality, particularly in the forestry sector.

Tackling gender challenges and constraints across the region requires a tailored approach by country,  through participatory approach involving both men and women in awareness-raising, capacity development, and consultation. The proposed policy actions aim to boost the understanding that each country’s needs and priorities in advancing towards gender equality in the forestry sector will bring the region closer to achieving its sustainable development and climate goals.

The five-year project “Global Transformation for People and Forests: A Focus on West Africa” will continue assessing these gender challenges in the region and identifying good practices and lessons learnt to address them, specific for each country and context.

To access the publication “Gender Equality and Forestry in West Africa: preliminary findings and recommendations for West African countries,” please go to:

http://www.fao.org/3/CB4280FR/CB4280FR.pdf  (French version)

http://www.fao.org/3/CB4280EN/CB4280EN.pdf (English version)