Ripple effect: Shifting gender norms in Kenyan forest restoration

Community dialogues spur positive change in Makueni County
A woman works on her farm in Mbooni, Makueni County, Kenya. Photo by Kelvin Trautman

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Gender dynamics can be critical to the success or failure of forest landscape restoration (FLR) efforts. Roles and relations dictated by gender often shape the way people interact with their natural surroundings, as well as how resources are managed, decisions are made, and responsibilities and benefits are distributed within households and communities. To achieve equitable and sustainable FLR outcomes and ensure that all genders have equal opportunities and influence over the future of their landscapes, it’s essential to recognize and address these dynamics.

In Kenya’s Makueni County, the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and its partners ran a series of training workshops on how to run community dialogues on gender and land restoration. The dialogues bring together group-based activities from other toolkits, including role plays and visioning exercises, and are designed to facilitate open and constructive discussion about how gender roles and relations impact people’s lives and their ability to engage and benefit from restoration efforts.

CIFOR-ICRAF’s community dialogues on gender and land restoration include six activities adapted from existing toolkits, including: Leder et al. (2016), Jost et al. (2014), Reemer and Makanza (2015) and Hillenbrand et al. (2015) and Carden et al. (2001).

“The dialogues create a space for discussing sensitive topics and for people to react and reflect on their views and the perspectives of others,” said Mary Crossland, an associate scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF. “Through acting out scenarios and asking, ‘how are things now and how would you like things to be?’, the activities help communities to develop visions for the future and agree on how to achieve more equitable restoration outcomes.”

First, team members from CIFOR-ICRAF and its partner organizations, African Wildlife Foundation and FAO-Kenya, participated in a two-day facilitator training on gender transformative approaches and community dialogues in Nairobi.

Community facilitators take part in community dialogue exercises during their training in Nairobi. Photo by Ann Wavinya/CIFOR-ICRAF

Then, over the course of two months, the team held a series of workshops in Makueni County with members of the Mbooni Community Forest Association (CFA) and county government officials.

Kenya’s CFAs are formed by people living close to forests who play an important role in their protection, conservation, and management. In return, they benefit by accessing the forests to sustainably acquire firewood, bee-keeping ventures, butterfly breeding, and much more. Given their integral role in FLR, mainstreaming gender equality and social inclusion issues within these structures is crucial.

The workshops built awareness of the importance of including women, men, boys, and girls in FLR activities, encouraging collective reflection on how gender relations generate constraints and opportunities. Participants were also trained to facilitate community dialogues on gender and land restoration through a ‘learning by doing’ approach, and a team of Trainers of Trainers (ToTs) was established to continue training other Mbooni CFA members on the approach. In total, twelve local level two-day training events were held, involving over 200 members of the CFA.

Workshop participants take part in a role play exercise where men and women exchange gender roles. Photo by Ann Wavinya/CIFOR-ICRAF

“In the beginning of the trainings, both men and women showed some hard-liner signs and resisted any change to the gender-role status quo,” said Damaris Mwikali, a forester at the county government. “Interestingly, as more activities were carried out, there was a kind of softening and empathy, eventually resulting in agreement on the need for change. Such changes will not occur instantly, but as individuals embrace new ways of being, the ripple effect will sweep through the community, eventually shifting social values.”

During the trainings, participants were engaged in various group exercises demonstrating gender equity and social inclusion in forest and landscape restoration. Photo credit: CIFOR-ICRAF/Ann Wavinya

Following the trainings, the team held a reflection workshop with CFA members that had been trained as ToTs to reflect on challenges and successes so far, and identify opportunities for improving gender and social inclusion within the CFA. The facilitators were encouraged to hear testimonials from those trained, especially from men that had started implementing the lessons within their own households. For instance, one man in his late fifties shared that he had begun cooking for his family, a task which he had formerly considered to be within his wife’s domain. “I am sure my children are learning through observation,” he said.

Trainer of Trainers reflecting on the workshops. They discussed the challenges, successes and opportunities. Photo by Ann Wavinya/CIFOR-ICRAF

John Kioko, the chairperson of Mbooni CFA, said that more women have joined local CFA groups since the trainings began, and have taken up activities such as beekeeping that were traditionally male-dominated. “In the past, forests were associated with men, and therefore we had very few women in our groups, but since we had the trainings there has been a shift in gender roles and decision making,” he said. “We actually expect more women than men to take up leadership positions in the upcoming group elections.”

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The workshops form part of the UK PACT funded project, “Delivering nature-based solution outcomes through strengthened policy implementation, institutional capacity, and enhanced monitoring and reporting of forest and landscape restoration in Kenya”. This project seeks to scale nature-based climate solutions by strengthening capacity for implementing and monitoring FLR and skills in the use of gender-transformative, equitable, and socially inclusive restoration approaches.

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