Positive action on gender supports sustainable development


Members of a women’s group in Malawi in their tree seedling nursery

“Women produce up to three-quarters of the food crops grown in West and Central Africa, and their actions, for better or for worse, affect natural resources, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and ultimately shape the trajectory towards sustainable development.

Cécile Njebet, an advocate for women’s rights and currently president of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests REFACOF network, said this in her invited talk at the ICRAF Science Week 2014 from 8-12 September.

“Women’s activities (e.g slash and burn farming, non-sustainable exploitation of non-timber forest products) can drive deforestation and forest degradation. Yet on the other hand women also participate in agroforestry, tree nursery establishment and management, and community forestry action—thus contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable natural resources management. These are all important elements of sustainable development

However, said Ndjebet, under African customary law women seldom own or inherit land, and the only way they can access land is by marriage or through their male children. “If a woman is unmarried, she has to share access rights with her mother!”

“These user rights allow rural women to collect tree products like fruit, nuts, vegetables, but they cannot transact in the land or harvest high-value products like timber. Without secure land tenure, women’s effective participation in climate-change mitigation schemes like REDD+ is hampered,” noted Ndjebet.

To compound the situation, she said, is the new phenomenon sweeping across the African continent: “Governments are giving out thousands hectares of land and forest concessions to agri-business, logging companies and industries while communities and women become more and more landless!”

Ndjebet challenged research and development organizations such as ICRAF to “move from imperative to action” in mainstreaming gender in their activities. For success in designing and implementation of gender-sensitive policies and programs, technical capacity and adequate budgets are necessary, she noted.


Cécile Ndjebet of REFACOF, Cameroon speaks at ICRAF HQ, Nairobi 10September2014. Photo by Anne Kamadi/ICRAF

Don’t just say: ‘Oh, gender? Let’s appoint a woman!… and leave it at that. It’s also important to build gender sensitivity within your own staff, including scientific staff.”

Noting that political will is a critical ingredient in gender mainstreaming, Ndjebet said REFACOF—as part of its advocacy to achieve gender equity in land and forest tenure—builds strong networks and strategic alliances with holders of political offices: traditional chiefs, parliamentarians, mayors, who are mostly men. As a result of these linkages, every ministry in Cameroon now has a gender focal point, she said. The network also promotes links with research organisations in order to empower women.

“Thanks to a great partnership with ICRAF-Cameroon, women are now doing tree breeding and domestication…no one can believe it…We used to think only men can do it, but women are now doing it..”

During the session several of ICRAF’s regional coordinators shared their perspectives on gender and natural resources management.

Zac Tchoundjeu, ICRAF West and Central Africa coordinator, said there is more than meets the eye to gender issues in Africa. “We need to look more closely at culture, in order to grasp the concept of gender. In many African chieftaincies, for instance, the chief will not take a decision without the consent of the ‘queen mother’, his most trusted wife,” he said.

And in the pursuit of gender equity, we must be careful not to discriminate against men, added Tchoundjeu.

Jonathan Cornelius, regional coordinator for ICRAF-Latin America, said in many Latin American countries and cultures women can and do inherit and control land.

Ujjwal Pradhan, ICRAF-SouthEast Asia regional coordinator challenged the veracity of the literature on climate change, which “mostly tends to look at women as victims.” “Can we also focus on the agency of women groups to address climate change?” said Pradhan. “There is a crying need for evidence-based research in this area.”

“We need to understand context, history, and politics of a place, in addition to its ecological and social diversity, as a way to grasp gender issues.  One also needs to look at other forms of social exclusion, spaces, races, ethnicity, caste, status, and so on.”

The engaging session concluded with the presentation, by ICRAF Director-General Tony Simons, of a new ICRAF publication—a user guide to gender analysis in agroforestry titled “In Equal Measure.”

Download presentation: Gender: from imperative to action. By Mrs Cécile Ndjebet, REFACOF, Cameroon

Blog: New guide to gender analysis in agroforestry



Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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