Women's engagement at WeForest
Who runs the forest? Women!
“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women,” said late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2005. A quote that is still accurate today and which explains why engaging with women is important for WeForest. Ensuring that the women in the communities we work with play an active role in Forest Landscape Restoration allows them and newly planted forests to thrive.
Women are still responsible for household work in many countries around the world meaning that, by default, they are the ones providing their husband and children – and perhaps other family members – with food. In a subsistence economy, this means that they are typically the ones collecting water and gathering firewood to cook food which effectively makes them the primary users of forest resources.
When starting a restoration project in these communities, we have to make sure that the perspectives of all users are reflected in the project design. This includes women. As explained above, they play a key role in using and managing forest resources, yet are often overlooked or even excluded. “Projects aiming to address the root causes of deforestation and forest degradation, need to understand local power and decision-making dynamics, which can be influenced by various social or economic factors such as religion, clans, and of course gender,” Claire, our Livelihoods Coordinator, explains. “At WeForest, we make sure that our project designs take into account the extent to which inequality, marginalization, and vulnerability can affect how natural resources - and by extension forest resources - are managed.”
Engaging with those who use forest resources or are most likely to start using forest resources in times of need - for example, making charcoal to get an income during the ‘hunger’ period - is critical to ensure that the forest will be managed sustainably and that the trees will continue to be protected and maintained after the project has ended.
Participation and representation counts
When starting a project, activity or training it is essential to understand the different roles, responsibility and decision-making methods in the community. “We look for answers to questions such as: Who is involved in decision-making processes regarding natural resources and how? Who has access to information? Who knows where the recourses are?”, Claire states.
Moreover, women should at all times be involved and given the opportunity to actively participate in training sessions and project activities. “This means that activities should be planned according to women’s availability. In some cases that could mean organizing events on Sundays after church. It is important that our projects adapt to their rhythm and lifestyle, and not the other way around.”
While counting and reporting on the number of women present at a meeting or training is important, it is also important to look beyond participation numbers to have an accurate indication of the real participation and representation. For example, did the women actively participate/speak up and contribute to the meeting? Were their suggestions listened to and taken into account by the wider group? Knowing the answers to those questions helps us to design our projects to improve gender equality.
WeForest Women – Testimonials
Weresech K. in Ethiopia
Weresech K., 32 years old, has 7 children and is one of the women directly benefiting from our work in the Seret village in Ethiopia. She has a regular job with WeForest where she prepares sites and also plants, weeds and waters new seedlings. “I have directly planted and cared for over 250 new trees,” she said proudly.
Sakani Malunga in Zambia
These four generations live under one roof. Sakani Malunga (middle) joined WeForest's forest restoration program and followed a training course on forestry-related subjects where she learned that trees and forests are a good solution to avoid runoff, topsoil erosion, and flooding as trees contribute to the hydrological cycle allowing infiltration of precipitation through soils to recharge the groundwater.
Jennifer Mulomba in Zambia
Jennifer Mulomba has received training in grafting and establishing her own micro nursery. This has allowed her to grow the pine trees that she planted in an underutilized plot on her farm. WeForest provides women in Zambia with the tools and skills to perform grafting and nursery practice on their own farms, which allows for an extra income.