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Around the world, millions of hectares of land are being reforested as part of global efforts to combat climate change, restore ecological integrity and improve human well-being. But it’s not just a matter of planting trees on empty lands. As in any landscape, the areas where restoration efforts are taking place are overlaid with uses, histories and political dynamics – including different rights and responsibilities for men and women.

Researchers are just beginning to look at the implications of Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) for gender equality.

The movement presents both challenges and opportunities for improving women’s rights, says Markus Ihalainen, a research officer at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with women’s access to land as a major issue.

“In a lot of countries you already have good policies, guaranteeing women’s rights to land,” he says. “But then you find on the ground both a lack in implementation and a lack of awareness of those rights, and often social pressure that hinders women from claiming the land rights they hold legally.”

At the same time, FLR offers opportunities for women to be better included in land-use decisions and to participate in planting and restoration work, with potential benefits for their overall well-being.

Research from Mali shows there are opportunities to leverage synergies between restoration and women’s well-being, and that restoration options involving certain indigenous species, as opposed to fast-growing timber species, can enhance women’s adaptive capacities,” Ihalainen says.

“But unlocking this potential often requires identifying, negotiating and reconciling trade-offs between different restoration goals. That is why it is so important to conduct a thorough gender analysis and involve women as stakeholders in the process,” he adds.

In a conversation with Forests News, Ihalainen shared more about the ongoing research on gender and restoration, and how it’s being put into practice around the world.

You just released a brief on gender and Forest Landscape Restoration. Can you tell us about that?

FLR is gaining a lot of political momentum, and there’s a lot of focus on it now. But in terms of gender and FLR, the discussion so far has been quite general and quite broad. And so what we have been interested in doing is to really look at what is happening on the ground: What are some of the ways in which FLR is implemented on the ground? What are some of the concrete challenges and opportunities to address gender equality? And really have a grounding discussion about that.

In terms of literature on gender and FLR, it’s still quite thin. Even FLR as a concept, in terms of what it’s become now – there’s quite little solid research on that. So what we wanted to do was to look at the broader literature, including the literature on REDD+ and other initiatives, and to really look at what some of the key entry points are for gender analysis when it comes to FLR.

And so we posed questions such as: What are some of the key risks to women’s rights? What are some of the possible synergies between various restoration goals and gender equality? And also looked at some of the trade-offs, and how they can be reconciled.

And what did you find?

A big issue for gender and FLR is around land tenure. That is, on what land is restoration taking place? In areas where women don’t have land titles they’re not necessarily included as stakeholders in the FLR process at all. Then again, in many countries or in many contexts you have women planting trees, you have women nursing the seedlings, but in 20 years’ time it might be that they’re not able to reap the benefits.

In areas where women don’t have land titles they’re not necessarily included as stakeholders in the FLR process at all

Markus Ihalainen, CIFOR research officer

We had a very telling example of this during a recent workshop in Nairobi, where Janet Chihanga from the Komaza Foundation had been working with women on the coast of Kenya to restore and plant trees in degraded lands that weren’t really claimed by anyone.

She found that some eight years later — when it wasn’t even time for harvesting, but just thinning — the men who previously showed no interest in the land which the women had been working on for all this time, suddenly turned up and claimed the land. Because there were trees there.

What does the research suggest for action going forward?

I think what’s really important is to look at what is actually happening on the ground. That is really what needs to inform this discussion. It is a long process and it will require everything from policy to addressing issues to do with the implementation of policy, to changing and transforming norms on the ground.

That will, of course, require the collaboration of a lot of different partners. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but I think in the short term with restoration initiatives, some of the really critical things will be to implement and ensure that the principles of FPIC — or free, prior and informed consent — are upheld and implemented in a gender-responsive way.

I think what’s really important is to look at what is actually happening on the ground

Markus Ihalainen, CIFOR research officer

What needs to be done next?

When we look at FLR and gender, because there are so many stakeholders involved, and because there are so many different approaches, it’s very difficult to make a broad statement about what needs to be done.

But I think one of the reasons for me, personally, why I am engaged in this, is because this is really an opportunity to bring these issues up to the forefront of discussions.

Now there is a lot of focus — a lot of political emphasis — on these areas, these lands, that have not necessarily been the priority of a lot of policymakers for a long time. Now there’s more and more emphasis on these areas, and so bringing the issues of rights and gender equality into that discussion is really critical.

And it’s a good opportunity to do that now.

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at
This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.
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