Gender equality a viable solution to deforestation

A section of locals cut down trees near one of the 54 indigenous forests in Kalwani village alongside Tiriki forest in Vihiga County. [File, Standard]

Many agree that the taste of food cooked using gas is different from that made on charcoal-fuelled jiko. What then do we do to continue enjoying tasty food without destroying our forests?

As the International Women’s Day celebrations continued, the International Day of Forests, themed “Forests and innovation: New solution for a better world”, came on Thursday, bringing to mind the relationship between different gender and forests.

For some, in the village especially, those who use gas fuel “have money to waste”. Gas is for warming food or cooking tea. Real food is cooked using firewood or jiko. The story is the same in informal urban residences. For the “rich”, food is bought in bulk, boiled and stored in fridges. It is warmed in microwaves, or fried on gas cookers. Meanwhile, a broke man in the village is more likely to venture into a forest, cut trees and burn charcoal to not only provide fuel for his family, but also earn a living. A richer one buys the same charcoal on the roadside, then when safely joins me, who also prefers jiko-cooked food, on the podium to condemn forest destruction. All have sinned against forests.

Knowing the role of forests in dealing with the world’s triple crises – pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change – necessitates grabbing every opportunity and power in each gender to make positive change and ensure sustainable management, conservation and development of all types of forests. It also behooves authorities to recognise ways in which gender equality is linked to forests and the crises.

A good solution would be commercial forests that provide timber, charcoal or wood fuel. But since this may not be immediately achievable here, and with the intimate knowledge forest-dependent communities have of local ecosystems, women collecting wood fuel from forests, or men burning charcoal, could opt for fallen dried wood rather than cut growing trees.

Still, gender parity arises. Due to existing gender disparities, socio-cultural factors, economic inequalities, and limited access to resources and education, women and children are disproportionately affected by climate change. Extreme weather events such as floods or droughts worsen women’s workload, increase food insecurity, expose them to sexual and other abuses, and disrupt their livelihoods more compared to men.

Knowing how great educators women are, they must be heavily involved in solution finding. If empowered economically through agroforestry or sustainable livelihood programmes to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and enhance their capacity to adapt, women will invest in climate-resilient technologies, diversify their income sources, and access education and healthcare services, ultimately strengthening their role as forest conservators.

With set rules for sustainable resource use within their communities, women groups can minimise illegal logging and deforestation. In rural areas where access to clean energy is limited, they can adopt sustainable practices such as selective harvesting and tree planting, besides use of energy-efficient stoves to reduce wood consumption. The Kenya Forest Service, through Kenya’s National Forest Policy, emphasizes gender mainstreaming in forest management in line with the Constitution. For effective solutions, there needs to be continuous research and data collection to establish the status of women’s representation in forest governance bodies, identify barriers to their participation and seek interventions.

The government can empower these women more by ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making processes devoid of gender norms and stereotypes. Addressing gender disparities is not only a matter of social justice but also a strategy for building resilient and sustainable forest ecosystems in the face of climate change.

The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]