How is gender being mainstreamed by natural resource managers in Asia?

Government, UN and NGO forest practitioners from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Timor Leste and Lao PDR gathered in Bangkok to share experiences and improve their capacities to promote gender equality in natural resource management. The training was conducted in Bangkok from 23-26 January, and is part of a collaboration between RECOFTC and FAO to address policy and capacity gaps in mainstreaming gender in forestry policies in the Asia and Pacific region.

The interactive training equipped participants with skills and best practices to move from policy to action through developing strategies and adopting gender-sensitive approaches in their own natural resource programmes.

During the training, participants shared their own experiences in gender mainstreaming. Ms Kusdamayanti, a Senior Trainer from The Center for Environment and Forestry Human Resources Education and Training, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia, shared that on the ministerial level gender budget allocation increased, and that a Gender Mainstreaming working group consisting of all Director Generals in the Ministry has been formed. The Center also piloted gender mainstreaming approaches such as conducting a gender role analysis for more responsive forest management.  The activities resulted in positive changes in terms of improved health and livelihoods among grassroots women.

A participant from Nepal, Deepa Paudel, Assistant Lecturer from the Institute of Forestry, Tribhuvan University, shared how a multi-stakeholder approach in forestry project management fostered collaboration between government agencies and civil society conservation organizations. In addition, on the policy level, the Mainstreaming Gender Equality Act 2006, together with the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Strategy, helped drive gender mainstreaming in natural resource management in Nepal. Deepa explained that this contributed to the allocation of 20% of natural resource management funds for gender mainstreaming activities, resulting in 39% representation of women in  decision-making positions in Community Forest Users’ Groups at the local level .

Mr Bounpheng, Deputy Chief Administration Officer, Agriculture and Forestry Department, Luangprabang province, Lao PDR, discussed their three-year JICA-supported project on promoting Gender Mainstreaming in Forest Management. By having a minimum of 30% women’s participation in forest zoning activities, village committee meetings, patrols and as local resource managers, the project built capacities of women to acquire equal benefits from forest management.

Another interesting project shared by Md. Abul Hashem, Assistant Chief, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Bangladesh, was the Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation project funded by Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project mainstreamed gender by offering women in the project sites training opportunities on how to generate income through forest plantations and vegetable gardens. In addition, women were involved in climate change adaptation. Through the project, women exercised their rights to access government land and social services. The project promoted the empowerment of women and resulted in tangible impacts including women’s improved incomes and increased engagement in policy reformation. In Bangladesh, gender mainstreaming is supported under National Forest Policy 1994, Social Forestry Rules amended in 2010 and Co-management of Protected Area Rules, which encourage at least 40% women’s participation.

In addition to the in-class session, the participants went on a field visit to Baan Huai Hin Dam Community Forest in Suphanburi Province, Thailand, where a Thai Karen community   practices traditional rotational agriculture. The participants interacted with community members about their daily lives, the roles of women and men, as well as their access to and control over natural resources.  Through using the Harvard gender analytical framework, which participants learned on the previous day, they then identified gender-related issues, challenges and opportunities for the community. 

On the last day of the training, participants met gender experts from around Asia who took part in a panel discussion on gender mainstreaming as the strategy to achieve gender equality. The panelists included Clara Park, Regional Gender Rural and Social Development Officer with FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok; Kalpana Giri, Research Fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute; Kyoko Kusakabe, professor of Gender and Development Studies at the Asian Institute of Technology; Nisha Onta, Regional Coordinator for Asia and Knowledge Management Coordinator of WOCAN; and Sanam Amin, Programme Officer for Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

A key message of the panel was that gender mainstreaming must be a means rather than a goal towards gender equality and empowerment at all levels. However, Clara Park stressed that gender mainstreaming alone is not enough to transform patriarchal power relations in society. Targeted direct interventions to specifically empower women to have their own voice and representation in the decision-making processes are greatly needed and therefore the funding for women-led organizations is of high importance.

Kalpana Giri made the point that achieving gender equality includes the equal sharing of responsibilities and decision-making processes at the household level. The panelists shared that there is a wide range of evidence of how including gender in any research, project and policy can increase women’s leadership and contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Kyokok Kusakabe emphasized that her research found that improved gender relations was linked to better market productivity, better livelihoods and the health of children.

Nisha Onta argued that gender equality is the prerequisite for all Sustainable development Goals. Agents of change must be identified and targeted for leadership and networking. This was supported by Sanam Amin, who argued that women, particularly grassroots, rural and indigenous women must not be seen as victims but as sources of valuable knowledge for broader societal gain.

Panelists discussed the need for improving enabling environments for gender equality, allocating specific budgets for gender equality activities, inclusion of detailed gender analysis in project management, and the importance of networks, leadership skills, advocacy and supporting women to participate at high-level meetings.  Panelists also urged gender practitioners to find ways to communicate the importance of prioritizing gender mainstreaming to their managers in ways that natural resource experts can understand. (For more information about the panel, see the PowerPoints below.)

Overall, the training emphasized the importance of always including gender mainstreaming approaches in project management. Gender mainstreaming does not only increase the livelihoods and rights of women but also has larger societal benefits. Successful gender mainstreaming projects can lead to improved and more stable societies through poverty alleviation and sustainable development.