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24 May 2017 | Voices from the field

Women in Community Forestry

Shuvani Thapa & Mehwish Zuberi

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A landscape of Dolakha district, Nepal Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

Dolakha district is home to 422 community forestry user groups (CFUGs) and a majority of its forested area is comprised of community forests. From 2009 to 2013, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) implemented its pilot project on designing and setting up a governance and payment system for Nepal’s community forest management under REDD+ here. A consortium of three agencies—the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Asian Network of Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources (ANSAB), and the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN)—implemented the project with financial support from the Climate and Forest Initiative of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

Scaling up from watersheds, ICIMOD’s REDD+ Himalaya initiative is being implemented with support from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). ICIMOD is now working at the district level to develop the overall capacity of forestry stakeholders on REDD+ mechanisms. A REDD+ Working Group and a REDD Desk have been established in Dolakha under the District Forest Office. With districts now being dissolved and federated into provinces—nagar palika and gau pilika—in Nepal, this programme will realign itself accordingly in the coming days.

A study has been initiated by ICIMOD with support from GIZ to assess the preparedness of community forestry institutions to contribute to REDD+ goals. The introduction of community forestry in Dolakha has seen reductions in unplanned deforestation as well as the regeneration of once degraded forests. Therefore, community forestry institutions will play a key role in determining the effectiveness of carbon sequestration efforts under the REDD+ initiative in Nepal. In the pilot study for the research, issues such as breadth, scope, additionality, leakage, and permanence were explored to analyze current community forestry institutions in relation to their ability to achieve the REDD+ outcome of “effectiveness”, defined in terms of the successful sequestration of carbon.

Laxmi Karki in a classroom at the school she teaches Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

During a recent one-week field research trip, the REDD+ team met 32 year old Laxmi Karki, former chairperson of the Napke Ainmara Community Forest, which, for ten years, had an all-female management committee. Karki is a teacher at a local governmental school. Her husband works as a construction labourer in Kathmandu. Below are excerpts from the conversation:

How did you first get involved in the community forest management committee (CFMC)?
I got married at the age of 19. My father-in-law was the treasurer of the CFMC at the time. He would calculate costs verbally. Because I know how to read and write, he asked me to help him out. I was reluctant at first, but I took up the role as I could not say no to my father-in-law. I knew the discussions held during these CFMC meetings did not always go as planned. I had once seen a man violently bang the chair he had been sitting on to the ground because he did not agree with something being discussed in one of these meetings. As I started working, the people around me started appreciating what I did and I was made Treasurer of the CFMC. I worked for five years in that role.

When the CFMC started working on its 10 Year Action Plan (2005-2015), there were several disputes among men in the group about who should be president. Things got violent as the conflict escalated. There were fights, rangers were beaten up, and the police had to be summoned. Members from the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB) and the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) members were also present to help diffuse the situation.

Eventually, the drafting of the Action Plan was postponed. Members gathered again after three months, but the disputes persisted. A representative from FECOFUN took things under his control this time around. He asked the men to leave and took all the women participants of the meeting to a corner and asked us who should be president. This is how I got elected. A group of 13 women CFMC members was chosen, including the vice chairs, treasurers, and members. None of the other women knew how to read, write, or calculate.

When this decision was announced, the men started arguing about how women would run the CFMC, but it was agreed that we should be given one chance. We took that once chance, and served for 10 years in our respective roles.

What were the initial days like for you as President of the CFMC?

Napke Ainmara Community Forest, Dolakha, Nepal Photo: Mehwish Zuberi /GIZ

I have faced immense hardships for this forest, which is why it is very close to me. Post my pregnancy, when my son was 13 days old, I participated in a three-day training on sustainable community forest management. I used to carry my son and patrol the forest as I was very committed to my responsibility and motivated to succeed. Because none of my co-workers knew how to read and write, I took up the responsibility of doing all the writing and recording with their consent.

What is the current situation?
I stepped down as president 10 years after taking up the responsibility. It was after the earthquake of 2015 that I handed over the responsibility to a man. Although I am not a member in the CFMC, I have been asked to maintain a records of all financial matters. I also remind the CFMC about their roles and responsibilities. In the long run, I would want other educated women to take leadership, or if things get out of hand, I will take the lead myself again.

Members of the CFMC speaking to a member of the REDD+ team Photo: Mehwish Zuberi /GIZ

What are your perspective on REDD+ and women?
REDD+ talks about sustainable forest management, and reducing deforestation and forest degradation. These are interlinked with women. Women play a big part in conserving forests. Education and awareness on why forests should be conserved must first be given to women. In rural villages, it is mostly women who go to forests to collect firewood and to local springs or taps to fetch water. If women’s capacities are not unfolded and if they are not sensitized about REDD+ or about how to conserve forests, then the end goal of sustainably conserving a forest cannot be achieved. There is nothing that a women can’t do. Even today women aren’t as involved as men in trainings and discussions. The number of men participating is often much greater and it is they who dominate discussions. Women should be educated, and awareness programmes with specific examples should be focused on women.

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