Sunday, March 22, 2020

Women and Forests

International Day of Forests

Swathi Chaganty

“The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree,” said Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her exemplary work in the field of environmental conservatism, women’s rights, and led the charge of reforestation in Kenya.

And she is one of the many who have worked tirelessly in the field of forest conservation, environment protection and biodiversity preservation. From Margret Murie and Celia Hunter who shouldered the responsibility of safeguarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Rachel Carson – an author, whose passion for environment and acute observation of conventional farming and its impacts on the environment and public health led to the development of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the US to Jane Goodall the world renowned anthropologist and primatologist who made conservation and animal welfare her life’s mission to Vandana Shiva – who began her life in environmental activism and studies by documenting  the progress of the Chipko Movement in real time in the late 1980s.

And the achievements of these women trailblazers did not just fulfil the singular goal of forest conservation and biodiversity preservation but it did something more than that. Through each of their journeys, they encouraged hundreds and thousands of women to join their efforts and brought to the forefront the dynamic of “women and forests”.

Indigenous and rural women living in forests in many parts of the world are tasked with feeding and taking care of the family and that includes foraging for medicinal herbs, gathering food and fuel wood, collecting water. Thus, they are equal stakeholders in the forest ecosystem, interacting with every aspect of forest life, the wilderness, the illegal felling, the legal but destructive mining, good and bad conservation management and practices as well as the complicated land rights issues.

Therefore, understanding their challenges, viewing forest conservation and management and biodiversity protection from their perspective will not only give a new impetus to this endeavour but also make this journey a lot more holistic and sustainable. While the governments and think tanks engage with this head on, we as responsible citizens of the world have but one job, to be informed and educated.

Therefore, this International Forest Day, we have found three comprehensive resources that focus on the involvement of women in forest conservation.

World Rainforest Movement: An international initiative that focuses on the challenges faced by and solutions developed by the indigenous and peasant communities from the Global South. Their compendium – Women, forests and plantations. The Gender Dimension – published in 2005 presents several cases studies and articles focusing on the challenges of mining, illegal felling and climate change.

Picture Source: World Rainforest Movement

Forests and Gender: Another brilliant compilation by Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) – an advocacy that focuses on women’s rights, social, economic and environmental justice — that has compiled case studies from several countries across the world focused on the relationship between gender and forest conservation and issues such as climate change. This 123-page quick read, published in collaboration with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also has a dedicated section aimed at possible strategies and management processes that can be adopted to gain a gender perspective in nature conservation management and climate change action plans.

Picture Source: Forests & Gender by WEDO and IUCN

Women’s Earth &Climate Action Network, International (WECAN): A solution-based organization that collaborates with women worldwide in policy advocacy, grassroots projects, trainings and building a climate justice movement. One of their major projects Women forForests aids indigenous women in their efforts to stand up to the extractive industries such as mining, felling, and expansive industrial agriculture that are threatening the very ecosystems they live in. Their Women Speak initiative is an international collaboration of collecting stories and cases studies of women who are at the frontlines of climate change.

Image result for WECAN International
Picture Source:

So, let us keep ourselves educated and informed, learn to critically view our existing systems through different lenses, and while we do that put into practice simple actions at an individual level because as Wangari Maathai said, you do not need a diploma to plant a tree.  

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