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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

India’s Forest Tenure Reform: Engendering Women’s Citizenship?

CIAT, Colombia (18 March, 2013). Does recognition of forest rights help marginalized groups? How does forest tenure policy affect the livelihoods of forest-dependent marginalized groups such as tribal and indigenous groups – in particular, women and children?

Photo by P.Bose

Photo by P.Bose

Identity-based and rights-based forest tenure policy reform has become a common phenomenon for marginalized groups in vulnerable areas of developed and developing countries. In the debate about tenure reform the identity of ethnic minorities (tribal and indigenous groups) living in and around the forest, and the ancestral rights of possession over forest land and resources are critical. However, these issues raise the question of whether the recognition of land tenure rights actually benefit women? (refer http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/Infobrief/3750-infobrief.pdf)

Why Forest Tenure Matters for Tribal Women?

Since 1998, my research work focused on the Bhil tribal communities in three contiguous tribal districts (Jhabua, Dahod, and Banswara) in western India. Recent research findings on ‘Citizenship and Gender in Forest Tenure’ indicate that the tribal women in these regions face social, cultural, and political exclusion due to the changing regime of forest tenure and the lack of democratic decentralization. Among several factors the common cause for women’s exclusion is the external interventions that promotes a top-down ‘participation’ approaches without ensuring tribal women’s ‘political empowerment in decision-making’.

India has one of the oldest bureaucratic histories of forest governance through the Forest Department, which continues to be the domain of male domination. From 2006-2012 in-depth qualitative research conducted in the poorest tribal areas of India indicate that there is strong evidence of gender disparity in village-level democratic institutions known as ‘gram panchayats’ and in community based forest management.

This lack of empowerment not only has to do with gender discrimination but also with issues of citizenship affecting tribal communities as a whole. My forthcoming research paper highlights one of the challenges of India’s new forest tenure policy reform – the Forest Rights Act of 2006 – in relation to Bhil tribal people’s citizenship rights [Bose, P., in Press. Individual Tenure Rights, Citizenship, and Conflicts: Outcomes from Tribal India’s Forest Governance. Forest Policy and Economics:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389934112002456].

Towards Tribal Women’s Citizenship

Forest-dependent tribal women play a significant role in forest management. The majority of tribal women collectively access fodder, fuel wood, and non-timber forest products from degraded dry forestland in the semi-arid region of western India. Forest products constitute a major contribution to their household needs. Moreover, the majority of tribal women prefer to claim collective forest management rights (refer article in International Forestry Review on exclusion of tribal women’s access to forest in India http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/articles/ACIFOR1104.pdf). In contrast tribal men in general claim individual forest land tenure rights. Yet, these tribal women remain invisible. What makes these tribal women vulnerable in forest governance?

Citizenship and women’s forest tenure rights remains an understudied subject. Recognition of tenure rights plays an important role i.e. in who controls and has access to forest land and resources, why and how. However, recognition of forest tenure rights does not directly ensure citizenship rights for tribal women. One of the aspects that my paper analyzes is tribal women’s perception toward the new forest tenure policy reform, and how it impacts their citizenship and social identity. Clearly the majority of women in the tribal villages consider government policies as contradictory. For tribal women, lack of tenure rights means that they are politically not well represented at the community level, making them second class citizens.

In conclusion the paper emphasizes that citizenship is an important element for forest tenure analysis. The recognition of forest tenure rights may not directly coincide with the citizenship rights of the tribal men and women. Citizenship is important because it reflects how tribal men and women’s ethnic identity is related to get recognized by the state, and their sense of ‘belonging’ to forest land.

Do let us know your thoughts below in comments. Kindly contact Purabi Bose (p.bose@cgiar.org) for further information on ‘Citizenship and Gender in Forest Land Tenure’ research at CIAT. 

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