MCFly volunteer Judith Emanuel went along to the inaugural lecture of Professor Bina Agawarl at the University of Manchester and had this to report.
Manchester’s environmental community has a wonderful new asset, Bina Agarwal Professor of Development Economics and Environment at Manchester University. Her inaugural lecture this October, with the lovely title above, was inspiring in terms of its jargon-free accessibility, gender, equity and environmental analysis. Bina pointed out that economists studying environmental collective action and green governance have paid little attention to the question of gender. While women worldwide are the principal gatherers of fuel and food from forests and are very knowledgable about forests generally this is not recognised and it is assumed that people or villagers are the ‘experts’.
There has been international concern about the state of forests since the 1970’s. Initial action was very top down and not successful at revitalising forests. Bina’s research has looked at the impact of women’s involvement in community forestry institutions (CFI’s) on forest canopy and regeneration in Nepal and the Gujerat in India. Her conclusions are that if landless women make up at least 25-30% of CFI’s and are in key positions, it makes a significant difference to greening the forests. Why? She argues that it takes a critical mass of women to have a voice on the committees and they bring with them their stake in conservation, their ability to conserve and their knowledge of plants and species because of their everyday dependence on the forest which men do not have.
While in the short term it may be in the interests of landless women to extract as much as possible from forests, through involvement in CFI’s, landless women have developed a greater understanding of the importance of conservation. They share their understanding and information with other women which has reduced hostility to conservation action and changed the way women use forests – a ‘win win’ situation.
Ultimately Bina is convinced that for the sake of environmental sustainability it is crucial that women’s dependence on the forest is reduced by the introduction of more environmentally friendly cooking stoves and clean fuel. What’s the learning for us? Can the changes we need to make be undertaken without the stakeholders who currently lack power and influence and whose short term needs may be best met by consumption rather than conservation? If we want their support do they need access to understanding what needs to happen and why and opportunities to influence change?
Gender and green governance : the political economy of women’s presence within and beyond community forestry by Bina Agarwal Oxford University Press, 2010