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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Gendered Access to Trees and Forests in Uganda and India

CIAT, Colombia (15 May, 2013). In brief, the preliminary empirical findings on gender-based access to trees and forests in Uganda and India from a cultural dimension indicate that:

  • Access to trees and forestland tenure in Uganda and India has a cultural dimension.
  • There exists gender-based difference in access to trees on private land and community forest.
  • Women’s participation compared to men lacks decision-making in community forest.

A collaborative research* in Uganda and India examined key gender issues related to how men and women access to trees on private-land and how state and community forest management is organized. This ethnographic study aims to explore research questions related to participation and decision-making from the local cultural dimension. Though this evidence-based research is in the preliminary phase, the initial findings – based on our field work in Uganda (2012) and India (2010-12) – indicate that there exist gender-based difference in access to trees and its resources, and participation in community forest.

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Two children silhouetted on a mountain slope in southwestern Uganda.

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Two children silhouetted on a mountain slope in southwestern Uganda.

Uganda, a land-locked country bordering Lake Victoria, is commonly known as the Pearl of Africa. Uganda has progressive forest policy reform that promotes community-based forest management. The study area is the villages in Mbale district living adjacent to Mount Elgon National Park, the fourth highest mountain in East Africa.  India, on the other hand, the most populous democracy in the world, has recently introduced the Forest Rights Act. This policy reform aims to undo historic injustice done on the forest-dependent people, including the marginalized tribal people. The study area is the villages of semi-arid Banswara tribal district in Aravalli range of western Rajasthan in South Asia.

The marginalized forest-dependent tribes in the study areas are dependent on trees, land and forests for livelihoods. The future of policy reform of tree and forestland tenure will largely determine the secured access rights of the majority of the households.

We used the ethnographic qualitative research approach with focus on the cultural dimension. The cultural dimension provides an understanding of how culture plays (direct or indirect) role in influencing the men and women’s access to trees and their participation in the community forest management.

The community in the study areas, both in Uganda and India, face the challenges of implementation (or lack of) policy reforms. The findings indicate that gender disparity exists in a way that women lack tenure rights, which affect their access rights. They had to depend on male family member for making any decision related to planting trees or harvesting timber or tree resources. Women’s participation, in general, has been active in labor supply, but women receive limited financial gain from trees and forest products. Moreover, men are pro-active in decision-making in community forest management. From India, for example, it was evident that adapting the mainstream rural culture has limited the tribal women’s participation and further reinforced that community forestry is a male domain. Likewise, in Uganda, the local cultural practice though permits women’s daily household need to collect firewood, but hinders them from planting trees.

In our next detailed field work, we plan to gather qualitative data specifically related to how access to trees on private land (and its resources) is organized between men and women, and to what extent (and how) political participation is shaped by the cultural dimension. The comparative study will attempt to highlight the gendered dimension of the trees in private lands and forestland tenure for marginalized poor.

* Han van Dijk (Rural Development Sociology, Wageningen University) and Purabi Bose (Gender in Forest, Trees and Agro-Forestry Research, CIAT).

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