We know that more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods; of these, around 1 billion are women.
83% of the 850 million people collecting fuelwood or producing charcoal globally are women (“State of the World’s Forests” report from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization).
Evidence suggests that women also tend to be more dependent than men on small-scale forest enterprises for income. In Uttar Pradesh, India, around 45% of women’s income is generated from forests and common land, compared with only 13% for men. Women also tend to see forests as a precious natural resource rather than purely an economic asset. A study in Sweden found that female forest owners place a greater emphasis on the health, recreational and environmental value of forests.
Despite this deep-rooted co-existence between women and forests, women are often excluded from decisions concerning them. The most recent Poverty Environmental Network study (CIFOR) found that women in more than half of the 8,000 households surveyed did not participate in forest decision-making at all.
Data on women's customary and legal land rights also suggests an uneven playing field. In the tropical Global South, only 10 to 20% of women own land and local inheritance systems and matrimonial regimes allow women fewer inheritance rights than men.
The numbers become even more concerning when it comes to the impacts of forest loss and degradation and associated climate change. Studies show that women and girls are hit harder by climate-induced natural disasters, water shortages and food insecurity.
Of those displaced by climate-related weather events, 80% are women. (Climate change exacerbates violence against women and girls UNHCR)
How does gender inequality affect forest protection and restoration?
Many anomalies in the relationship between women and forests mirror the wider patriarchal system.
Women live with, relate to and use forests differently from men. They should, therefore, be central players in the movement to protect and restore global forests. The fact they are not is unjust for women, their families and their communities. Still, above all, it undermines the restoration and protection of forests - gender injustice is bad for forests.
Bina Agarwal has researched community forests in Nepal and India for decades. She has found that increasing women’s participation makes a real difference, with women tending to make stricter rules for forest use, thereby providing more protection. Community groups with more women members also outperform others in improving forest conditions. A CIFOR-led project in Uganda increased women's representation in local forest committees from 14% to 50%, allowing cultural taboos to be tackled. For example, among the Baganda people in central Uganda, women are not supposed to plant Ficus natalensis, as it symbolises leadership and ownership.
There are many examples of women protecting and nurturing their trees and forests, including one of the earliest recorded examples of forest-related mass protest in India in 1730. Amrita Devi, a woman from Rajasthan’s Bishnoi community, led resistance to the destruction of khejri trees; 363 people died trying to save them, including Amrita and her three daughters. In the 1970s, the Chipko movement in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, led by mainly women villagers, inspired many similar actions worldwide.
What are we doing?
TreeSisters’ Restoration Strategy aims to redress the imbalance in community forestry. The key outcomes we are working to achieve are:
Women’s essential knowledge and role in land use and reforestation will be recognised.
Women will take part in restoration and reforestation.
Women will be recognised as leaders and foresters.
Women will have agency in decision-making for their lands.
The burden and risks to women will be reduced through reforestation.
Agroforestry and restoration in Kasese, Uganda
(community partner Alpha Women Empowerment Initiative (AWEI) ).
With our local partner, we promote inclusive and equitable relationships between women and men and girls and boys as an integral aspect of landscape restoration.
The project focuses on women’s priorities and needs and empowers them as leaders in natural resource management through agroforestry. The project is a powerful example of locally-led reforestation with women’s empowerment at its core.
"People here didn't believe women could grow and plant trees. They thought the trees would die. But actually, the areas where women are planting and nurturing the trees are doing better than other areas planted by men!" (AWEI team member and planter in Uganda)
Fruit tree planting is empowering vulnerable women and children in Bolivia
(community partner: Voix Libres)
This reforestation and community empowerment programme supports vulnerable women and children out of poverty by building community resilience through reforestation, education, training, and agroforestry initiatives.
Alongside reforesting fire-damaged areas, the project plants ‘edible squares’ of fruit trees, employing and benefiting over 1000 women and young people. Women are the backbone of this initiative.
Female indigenous leaders restoring The Itombwe Rainforest, Democratic Republic of Congo
(community partners: Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) and Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO)
The Itombwe Rainforest is an internationally recognised conservation area with an extraordinary biodiversity of plants and animals and part of the Congo Rainforest, the second-largest rainforest on Earth. Scientists estimate, at its current rate of deforestation, Itombwe will be lost entirely by 2100.
We are working with over 700 local and indigenous women representing five tribes of over 25,000 residents. The aim is to reforest devastated areas of the rainforest, as well as protect against further destruction of old-growth. The project leaders are almost entirely female and indigenous. This approach provides local women a platform to learn and preserve the rainforest using their rich traditional and ecological knowledge.
Transgender and non-binary individuals are also particularly vulnerable to climate risks due to compounding discrimination. Evidence suggests they may not have access to gender-specific services and face challenges receiving aid during relief and recovery efforts. The Ethical Tree Growing Framework, soon-to-be-launched, addresses the need to recognise all genders and the inequalities they face in forest protection and restoration:
Gender equity includes the spectrum of genders recognised by bioregional communities. All genders need equality in access to trees and forests for their mental and physical health. (Ethical Tree Growing Framework, TreeSisters, 2023)
Nature is in crisis, and gender injustice is a major driver of this. Climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss are symptoms of this global existential challenge. Redressing the balance through gender-equitable approaches at all levels is critical to slowing and reversing the damage done to date.
This is no easy task, and we need your support to do it.
We can do more of this work with your continuing support and financial investment. Please help us to redress the balance.
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/06/explainer-how-gender-inequality-and-climate-change-are-interconnected https://www2.cifor.org/pen/ https://impact.economist.com/sustainability/social-sustainability/gender-inequality-and-climate-change-are-not-separate-challenges