Women's Leadership Circle for Inclusive Forest Governance in Nepal
In recent years, Nepal has undergone a rapid change in the country’s governance systems, including a newly developed federal structure that has devolved authority to local layers of government. The federal governance system aims to provide greater inclusivity, peace, and stability. As a consequence, a record proportion of women representatives (40.96%) were elected in the recently concluded elections for three-tiered governments (i.e. Municipality, Province and Federal).
The visible presence of a critical mass of women engaged in local government and visibly active in the public sphere of local governance is an accepted indicator of inclusive and equitable social development.
The rule making process to integrate women’s perspectives in policy and governance, however, is often contested from a gender perspective, and women tend to be largely excluded from wielding any influence in such spaces. Building capacities and a supportive environment for women's leadership in local governance in the context of federalism in Nepal is therefore needed. But more broadly, creating an enabling ecosystem for women's effective and meaningful participation in governance and beyond is crucial.
The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) through its local partner The Himalayan Grassroots Women’s Natural Resource Management Association of Nepal (HIMAWANTI) has initiated “Women’s Leadership Circle,” which aims to strengthen women leaders’ capacities for influencing gender-inclusive policy and practice. It has facilitated a three-day workshop on “Leadership and capacity development of locally elected women representatives” in Dhulikhel, Kathmandu from 18 to 20 September. The workshop convened 20 women leaders in their capacity as decision-makers (vice-mayors and vice presidents) from selected urban and rural municipalities, and HIMAWANTI.
“I have attended several trainings and workshops before, but this workshop was unique to enhance our legal knowledge on gender and natural resource management”
The workshop equipped these elected women representatives with legal provisions and processes to accommodate women’s roles, rights, and benefits, in particular from a Forestry and natural resource management angle, providing further support for them to identify opportunities for influencing gender and socially inclusive forestry policies and plans.
The workshop also helped to extract informed insights on particular capacity and skills needed, and broader interventions that could be designed to help support the elected women representatives to hone their leadership. These interventions suggest the need for broader discourse and discussion on contemporary gender issues as women leaders still face issues in local governance. Additionally, these interventions have identified components that are vital to support a gender-inclusive enabling ecosystem where they could play leadership roles.
During the workshop, there was palpable excitement and optimism amongst these women representatives to be an active participant in Nepal’s evolving federal governance system. Ms. Him Ganga Lama, Vice-Chairperson of Lishankhu Pakhar Rural Municipality, said, “I have attended several trainings and workshops before, but this workshop was unique to enhance our legal knowledge on gender and natural resource management”. Participants like Ms. Lama appreciated RECOFTC and HIMAWANTI’s initiative and capacity building support.
Other participants emphasized how the workshop facilitation allowed for the open discussion of experiences, opportunities and challenges as a woman leader in relation to influencing a change process . The big picture of enabling environment and changing attitudes is equally important: “...In these three days we were very open to discuss our roles and problem. To increase the decision making power of vice mayor, we need to change attitude of ward chairperson, members and even mayor through this types of sensitization,” says Ms. Renuka Poudel, Vice-Mayor of Hariwan Municipality. Certain women leaders, particularly Ms. Krishna Chaudhary, vice mayor of Thakurbaba Municipality, underscored the context-specific needs, especially in Terai area. Ms. Chaudhary herself expressed the need for targeted intensive efforts to bring women leader in the leadership front since the capacity of the elected leaders in the Terai is very low.
Findings from the workshop were shared and discussed with parliamentary members of the federal government, the chairperson of the natural resource management committee of the provincial government parliament, members of Parliament of the provincial parliament, representatives from the Ministry of Forests and Environment, representatives from projects and leaders from HIMAWANTI. The meeting was intended to identify an enabling ecosystem through which the HIMAWANTI can collaborate to maximize impacts for women’s leadership and gender-inclusive policies and practice. Moving forward, RECOFTC and HIMWANTI are working out the details of a long-term Women’s Leadership Circle Program that will strengthen women’ leaders to create meaningful influence towards gender equality and social inclusion. These national level initiatives will be connected and supported through Gender Leadership Co-Lab, a regional Leadership initiative of RECOFTC that will work towards creating gender-inclusive policies, investments and actions across forestry landscapes in Asia.