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Women Use the Trees and Should Manage the Forests—Experts

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Gathering food and firewood, women the world over are the main users of forest resources, international forestry experts say. But they seldom get to manage these areas.

At least two conservation groups would like to change that, and on the 100th International Women’s Day on March 8, they called for more female involvement in management and decision-making in the world’s forests.

Especially across the developing world, women “are primary users of forest resources and their sale of non-timber forest products is vital to the livelihood of many families,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a statement on March 7. “Their heavier dependence on forests also means that women have more at stake than men when forests are cut down or forest access is denied.”

It’s not about tree-hugging or touchy-feely girlie sentiment, either, the experts said. It’s about practicality.

“Taking a gender perspective in forestry has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with effective development and conservation: an awareness of the dynamics between men and women in forest resources can only help ensure that these resources are used sustainably and equitably,” said IUCN senior gender advisor Lorena Aguilar. “If we ignore gender, there is no doubt that we will fail in our efforts to strengthen forests’ contribution to poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.”

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With 2011 declared the International Year of Forests by the United Nations, advocacy groups are working harder than ever to draw attention to trees and the importance of keeping them healthy and emitting oxygen.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Indonesia, is also advocating for the practicality of installing women as forest managers.

"It is worrying that despite women's increasingly recognized contribution to forest management, they are not yet at the forefront of forestry decision-making," said Esther Mwangi, a scientist at the Center, in a statement. "As governments rearrange their policies and create new regulations ahead of the implementation of programs for REDD+, women's involvement in decision-making in forest management and conservation should be a top priority."

REDD+ is a global effort to reduce deforestation-related emissions, conserve forests and promote sustainable forest management.

The ICUN pointed out that women’s management role has increased in national and international arenas, “massive gaps remain in implementing these changes on the ground.”

For instance in Nepal, the group noted, women’s presence on community committees has grown from 27 percent to 45 percent, though much of this is limited to the women “sitting in silence while men make the calls on forest management.”