Tree of lifeThe inclusive policies in forestry are yet to translate into reality in Nepal
By the end of the Janaandolan II, the then CPN-Maoist had garnered massive public support by highlighting the deep-seated inequities for marginalised groups such as Dalits and Janajatis. Accordingly, the Three-Year Interim Plan goals were focused on reconstruction, reconciliation and reintegration through a rights-based approach to eliminate structural inequalities.
Quota for women
Later, the influence of Janajati as well as Dalit movements within the key national political parties' overshadowed the women's movement. By the time the second Three Year Plan (2010-2012) was introduced, the gender equity agenda started losing its grip and was compromised with other political party-specific priorities. Thus, simple representative quotas for women arguably proved ineffective at promoting gender equality at large.
Given this political context, the Gender and Social Exclusion Assessment, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank, offered a deeper understanding of fundamental exclusionary barriers within the development realm and beyond. The assessment report stated that women and children are excluded and relatively vulnerable while Dalit women face triple discrimination. This assessment had a significant impact on how gender and social inclusion strategies were developed in many ministries, including the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MoFSC).
And once the country adopted a democratic form of governance, support for the community forest user group approach started gaining momentum. The Forest Act (1993) and the Forest Regulations (1995) provided the legal foundation for community forestry. Soon after, the community forestry guidelines were amended to require 50 percent female representation in the user groups' executive committees.
The guidelines also included a provision for 35 percent of the income of user groups to be allocated for pro-poor interventions. poor and excluded groups identified then were women and men in economically poorest households: Dalits, Janajati and non-Dalit caste groups, religious minorities and people from remote areas.
But my recent efforts at understanding community forestry and gender disaggregation related statistics left me baffled. The current statistics reveal a very poor representation of women and minority groups in forestry-related institutions. For example, there are only three female District Forest Officers in the country and less than four percent of the staff employed by the Forest Ministry is female. The country's only Institute of Forestry has only about eight percent of women working as faculty members.
Though the number of women members in the user groups' executive committees has gradually increased over the years, it still has not reached its target of 50 percent. It is only 31 percent as of now. While this has been a positive achievement, serious attention is also needed to enhance women's active participation and meaningful representation to influence decisions rather than having representative participation.
Though there currently are more than 1,000 women-only user groups covering about 95,955 households, more research needs to be done on their formation, governance and outcomes. It is equally important to understand that these women-only groups are not homogenous. The existing social
differentiation across mixed groups need to be clearly understood and adequately addressed.
Nepal has undoubtedly taken notable initiatives towards promoting community forestry. More than 35 percent of the total population is engaged in community forestry and there are 18,000 registered community forestry user groups as of now. Furthermore, with the launching of the multi-stakeholder forestry programme—which aims to improve the lives of 24 million forest dependent rural people and to build the resilience capacity of vulnerable people to the effects of climate change—Nepal's community forestry has entered a new phase. With this, the hopes for addressing the challenges of exclusion have also increased.
As many organisations and individuals around the globe are celebrating the International Day of Forest today, I would also like to join the bandwagon to wish the users’ groups and stakeholders a happy forest day. However, my struggle to understand what comes first, political will or inclusive policy, continues. Something that my public policy professor used say a long time back while addressing our class still rings in my ears, “Dear students, political will and inclusive policy are like the story of chicken and egg.”
Upadhyay is associated with The Center for People and Forests, Thailand. Views expressed are personal. The writer can be reached at [email protected]