Why rural women in Uganda should be empowered to take the lead in forestry

"Unless we actually are having an effect on the ground, we are not doing anything."

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BOGOR, Indonesia (20 August, 2012)_Encouraging women to take leadership positions needs to become a national priority for Uganda’s policymakers in order to curb rampant deforestation, urges a new report from the Center for International Forestry Research.

“We need to try and expand the role of women in public life as they are still largely shut out of decision-making in Uganda. This has serious implications for forests,” said Abwoli Yabezi Banana of Makerere University and lead author of Gender, Tenure and Community forests in Uganda.

Previous CIFOR research has shown that mixed groups of women and men lead to better forest management. And improving the role of women to achieve sustainable forest management is particularly urgent in Uganda, which has the highest deforestation rate in East Africa. The country has lost more than a third of its forests since 1990.

“National efforts to increase the stature of women should span all segments of society, including having more women actively take up roles as policy makers, heading government and private organizations, and in leadership positions in local governments at the village, sub-county and district levels.”

Banana says he would like to see women’s rights enhanced through the provision of small scale grants to women involved in forestry business (from tree planting to forest products processing), increased training and scholarships provided to female forestry scientists, and increasing the public debate of gender and natural resources management in order to sensitize politicians and professionals.

The aim of the new CIFOR report was to shed light on the participation of women in community forestry in order to identify ways to improve their rights and access to forests.

We need to try and expand the role of women in public life as they are still largely shut out of decision-making in Uganda.

Surveying governmental and non-governmental organizations in the Mpigi, Masaka and Rakai districts in the Lake Victoria agroecological zone, Banana and his colleagues found that only five percent of technical and political leadership positions were held by women.

And the few women who hold these positions of influence had little impact on elevating the living standards and addressing the needs of rural women who actually live in close proximity to, and ultimately use, and manage forests.

Fewer women are enrolling in science subjects such as forestry at the university level. Also, even though the law provides for a certain proportion of women in elective positions, women hardly come forward to take these positions.

Another problem is that leaders and professionals (both men and women) who are born, raised and studied in urban centres do not relate easily to the needs of the marginalized groups living in rural areas. They therefore struggle to respond to the development needs of the rural marginalized groups adequately.

It is even harder for young girls, who are often overlooked in preference for boys when it comes to education opportunities. This can be rectified only if education facilities in rural areas improve and are more inclusive.

And, according to Banana, access to education in the rural areas is getting worse in Uganda.

“It is more difficult for the marginalised groups in rural forest areas to get a decent education and access leadership positions than it was one or two decades ago,” he said.

The study also found that the quality and extent of women’s participation in decision-making in forest management is enhanced when they join formal forest user-groups.

But despite efforts to include gender in project activities, less than one-third of organisations studied reported success in integrating gender. This is consistent with global patterns: the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently found that just 10 percent of the total aid for agriculture, forestry and fishing goes to women, with donor organisations failing “to put in place organisation-wide systems and resources necessary to make gender ‘everyone’s business’,” said a report from the African Development Bank.

The slow improvement of the status of women globally was highlighted by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the recent Rio+20 summit.

“I’m frankly losing my patience,” she said.

“We have perfected the literature. We have perfected the speeches. We have perfected the speaking points. That is not what it is about anymore. Unless we actually are having an effect on the ground, we are not doing anything.”

Organisations that appeal to women’s priorities will have positive impacts on reducing deforestation through direct and indirect effects, says Banana.

For example, tree planting schemes should ensure that provision of seedlings of tree species meet women’s needs and interests (fuel wood, food and nutritional security, soil fertility improvement and water conservation). This will help to ensure the full participation of women in forest programs.

“Equipped with better information and finances, women may be in a better position to participate effectively in the management of forest resources in the country,” the authors conclude.

Edited by Robin McDowell.

This new publication is part of CIFOR’s research program on Forests and Livelihoods and was supported by the Austrian Development Agency.

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Topic(s) :   Deforestation Community forestry Rights Gender