Women in forest monitoring and REDD+: why did Forest COMPASS projects have different levels of female involvement?


Annie Cooper

The Forest COMPASS monitoring initiatives in Guyana and Brazil had similar aims and methodologies, but somewhat different levels of female involvement. This meant we were really interested to contrast our experiences with this paper from CIFOR, investigating the involvement of women in REDD+.

CIFOR went to 77 villages in six countries, all at the early stage of implementing REDD+. In each village they spoke to a mixed (male-dominated) group, and a group of women, and found that the women tended to be less well informed about REDD+. The researchers then asked follow up questions to see whether women’s level of knowledge about REDD+ was correlated with any of these four factors:

  • Whether the local REDD+ initiative had gender equity goals
  • Whether women use the forest more, less or equally as much as men
  • Women’s participation in village decision-making in general
  • Women’s participation in decision-making and monitoring of forest resources specifically

Although the results were not straightforward, overall CIFOR found that none of the first three factors correlated with women’s knowledge of REDD+. In other words, women had no greater chance of knowing more about REDD+, even where they were using the forest as much or more than men, or were actively involved in their community’s decision-making, or if the local REDD+ initiative set out to include them. Conversely, low understanding of REDD+ cannot be associated with less use of the forest.

This is very worrisome, as REDD+ poses specific risks to women, who use the forest differently from men, typically more for subsistence purposes, while cash-oriented activities fall to men. All too often women’s use of the forest is poorly understood, or not acknowledged. Women can also have less secure rights to land and to forests. Their specific interests may not be well represented, as they tend to have less voice in decision-making over forest resources. It is therefore vital for women to be fully aware of the implications before their community signs a REDD+ contract that could restrict forest use.

The only factor CIFOR found that was associated with a greater understanding of REDD+ was female participation in rule-making and monitoring specifically for forest resources. The researchers gain some reassurance from the fact that these women were indeed better informed and potentially more able to influence REDD+. They were also pleased that some initiatives made progress towards gender equity even when it was not one of their stated goals.

This brings us back to the Forest COMPASS experience in Guyana and Brazil. Firstly we should point out that we did not collect data that was disaggregated by gender, nor set project goals around gender equity. However, we were interested to see that nearly half of our forest monitors in Guyana were female, compared to about a quarter in Acre, Brazil.

Rupununi tree measuring
Measuring trees to calculate biomass in North Rupununi, Guyana

In fact, it was the indigenous Makushi communities in Guyana who decided to set a target of 50/50 male and female monitors. Women in these communities were used to spending time in the forest, as shifting cultivation can take place far from their homes. They often had high profile roles in community decision-making: although all toshaos (chiefs) in the area were male, many of their deputies were female. A mainly-female research group did a livelihoods study ten years ago, then repeated aspects of it during the Forest COMPASS work.

Although our project team certainly feel that all these factors were helpful in encouraging women to get involved in forest monitoring, it is interesting that it is particularly the last one (the women’s involvement in earlier forest research) that the CIFOR study suggests would correlate with greater understanding of REDD+.

In Brazil, the process for selecting monitors was different: the local partner set criteria for those who wanted to apply, including willingness to walk long distances alone to survey the forest. Women in Acre are unlikely to do this as part of their daily lives, as hunting, Brazil nut collection and rubber tapping are done by men. Furthermore, walking for long distances alone in the forest, seeking out far-flung homesteads, is dangerous and culturally difficult. Unlike in Guyana, the communities did not set a specific target for female involvement (imposing such targets can be inappropriate and unwelcome in some cultures). We are not aware of previous local monitoring by women, or a particular role for them in decision-making for forest resources.

Participatory monitoring in Acre, Brazil
Monitors in training in Acre, Brazil

In both monitoring sites, we found that women were more likely to drop out, for various reasons. One Brazilian monitor did not want to walk the long distances on her own in the forest, and another became pregnant. In Guyana, monitors worked in pairs all day, often a man and woman, which could be awkward or lead to gossip. In some cases men felt challenged when their wife earned a salary from monitoring. Interviewing men also occasionally caused difficulties, as the communities had selected to address sensitive issues (such as alcoholism). A lesson from this is to find ways to make project design more inviting to female participants.

As well as gender, power issues are well worth exploring. Many of the women that got involved in Guyana were from particular clans related to the toshao (villages were often set up by particular families, and although others join the village, the first families tend to have more votes and select one of their own as toshao). One of the male monitors was a toshao too. Some of the female monitors in Brazil were well-educated with particular positions in the communities: a teacher, a nurse and two students. Of course the involvement of influential, educated women was helpful for the projects, but also raised interesting questions around power dynamics in monitoring systems - though that would be a different blog!

The CIFOR researchers ultimately concluded that although REDD+ safeguards are increasingly emphasising the importance of women’s involvement in REDD+, participation alone is not enough. This needs to be accompanied by gendered data and analysis, and gender should be integrated into design, monitoring and evaluation. Otherwise, interventions that are assumed to be gender-neutral can in fact have negative impacts on women, perpetuating inequalities into the future.

International Forest Agendas/s