|Who Participates? The Case of Rural Women, an NGO and Joint Forest Management in Gujarat (IRMA, 1995)|
Management, like participation, is a value-laden word, but "... in development discourse, it predominantly implies control (emphasis added) over decision making and planning in accordance with (project or programme) objectives," (Jackson 1993: 1950). Much WED literature assumes that those who work with a common property (or pool) resource, manage, or should be given the right to manage that resource, without questioning their ability or incentive to do so. Thus, women's association with fuelwood and fodder collection for household consumption, coupled with their assumed "natural" concern for the environment, is used as a rationale by NGOs and policy makers to extend the mantle of privileged environmental managers to them. It is hoped that by doing so, development would be more gender sensitive, equitable and sustainable.
While not negating the importance of women's participation, or indeed their role as natural resource managers, this paper has argued that the application of participation as a principle, cannot be generalised. Women's participation in forest management in Jambar has to be situated within the context of organisational boundaries (the Forest Department and AKRSP), as well as social realities including (most) women's evident adaptation to fuelwood shortages.
Despite the use of the term "management," the vocabulary of JFM is still one of forest protection using available and cheap local labour. Decision making is top-down and invariably male dominated, whether it is the FD or the village institution (in this case, GVM). AKRSP for its part, faces many organisational constraints in terms of translating its gender sensitive policies into practice. As well as sensitising its own staff, it is increasingly being forced to address the gender awareness (or lack of it) of the forest bureaucracy through training in this area.
And finally, women's adaptation to the question of fuelwood and the absence of any other income-generating forest-related needs, means that their incentive to participate in the management of the plantation is limited. Moreover, the demands of subsistence agriculture and the critical problem of water availability implies, that for many women, forestry is not a priority. Thus, there is no unifying relationship between women and their environment; rather it reflects divisions among women, because of their different needs, and is embedded in the dynamics of gender relations, political economies and agro-ecosystems.