Gender: It’s about men, too

Five key factors for the successful participation of both men and women in value chains for forest and tree products.
Habitantes de una aldea en Burkina Faso. Foto: CIFOR.

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Drawing on evidence from literature and their experiences implementing and studying value chains, 30 people sitting together at the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban last week agreed on the key factors that determine whether men and/or women will participate in and benefit from forest, tree and agroforestry value chains.

Think, for example, of fuelwood, gathered from the forest and sold in markets. Or shea nuts, collected and processed into oil, sold in local markets in West Africa and reaching millions worldwide in chocolate and cosmetics.

A growing body of research highlights how gender shapes people’s access to, management of and use of forest, agroforestry and tree products and their subsequent value chains – and who benefits. In response, donor organizations, governments, CSOs and NGOs have undertaken interventions on gender dynamics in value chains such as cocoa, shea and fuelwood. These have tended to focus on increasing women’s inclusion in the value chains, or on boosting the benefits that women derive from such chains.

Why does the term “gender” get so misused?

Verina Ingram

Interventions have also looked at the roles of men and women in food and nutritional security in forest, agroforest and tree chains, and of the impacts of climate change, taking a “gendered” – usually women’s – perspective. In addition, the research community has been following, and sometimes been actively involved in, participatory action research.

However, robust, independent impact analyses that demonstrate – qualitatively or quantitatively – how the position of specific groups of women and men has changed or been improved are only just starting to emerge. These analyses find that women are often presented as a homogeneous group positively influenced by specific upgrading, intervention, capacity building and empowerment strategies. In reality, however, the impacts differ greatly depending on other factors, such as age, social status and education, ethnicity and location (rural or urban).

Both the literature review and our group at the World Forestry Congress confirm that when people talk about gender, they often mean “women”. But, in fact, gender is about both men and women, about understanding the norms and institutions guiding the actions and interactions of women and men and the inequalities these produce.

Why does the term “gender” get so misused?

One reason is that a gap persists in the rights that men and women have to access forest and tree resources and markets. To bridge this gap, interventions have often exclusively targeted women. The downside is that chains are not equitably developed, so often these interventions have indirect – sometimes negative – effects on both men and women.

So the list that the group came up with last week in Durban was of five key factors that enable the successful participation of both men and women in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains.

  1. Local culture and history

As REFACOF notes, local culture and history can strongly determine who does what and how in a chain. As a result, certain products are sometimes seen as “men’s” or “women’s”, such as for eru leaves in Cameroon and shea in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Making changes requires working with women and men in the chain to question such norms and examine how they can be reconfigured to benefit both men and women.

  1. Knowledge and power – or lack thereof

Broadening the involvement of those who are marginalized so that they can take part in the most profitable and visible activities of a chain – and thus avoiding the capture of high-value products by one sex, as has been noted in the West African shea chain – can be achieved by empowerment and information provision. An example is the work FAO has done on cultivation and marketing.

  1. Access to and control over resources

Tenure of land and trees is key for participation in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains, as this gives people access to and control over resources; see, for example, recent studies from Uganda and Nicaragua. Formal ownership has been shown to be critical especially for women, for use as loan collateral. Complementary policy changes have also helped formally recognize SMEs, which can help increase women’s bargaining power and profits. However, when statutory laws are ambiguous or weakly enforced, customary institutions can work better.

  1. Collective action and organization, capacity development, leadership training and awareness raising

In the Middle East and North Africa region, GIZ has been sensitizing foresters to gender issues. Often, the foresters had been unaware of the work that women do in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains and that women were often eager to access markets too. By raising awareness of women’s contributions, GIZ was able to tackle issues stemming from the way the societies view women and their work.

  1. Access to credit

It can be difficult for enterprises trading in forest and tree products to gain access to credit, a point made forcefully by Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN) Uganda. Experiences in Central Africa and East Africa indicate that credit schemes coupled with market analysis and support in designing and implementing business plans help both women and men producers to develop their enterprises.

By keeping in mind these key factors, and mainstreaming “gender”, we may start to see interventions in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains that lead to equity for both men and women.


For more information on CIFOR’s work on gender and value chains, contact Verina Ingram ( or Markus Ihalainen (

CIFOR’s work on gender and value chains forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Topic(s) :   Oil palm Rights Gender