|Who Participates? The Case of Rural Women, an NGO and Joint Forest Management in Gujarat (IRMA, 1995)|
In June 1990 the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a circular to the forest secretaries of all the states and Union territories of India calling for the development of partnerships between local communities and the Forest Department (FD) in the management of forest lands. The Joint Forest Management (JFM) initiative seeks to ensure the long-term sustainability of forest resources by fostering trust and defining mutually acceptable rights and responsibilities between two historically opposed parties, the state and forest dwellers. It is a response to the National Forest Policy (1988) which envisages people's involvement, particularly women's, in meeting their basic forest-related needs and in managing their local forest resources. To date, 14 states have responded to the JFM circular by issuing resolutions or notifications specifying the basis of FD-local community partnerships, often mediated by intermediary Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Together these 14 states account for 72 per cent of the country's 75 million hectares of public forest land as well as 91 per cent of its tribal population (Sarin 1993).
In June 1994, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, India (AKRSP) an NGO working in the state of Gujarat, approached the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat (IRMA) to undertake process documentation research (PDR) on people's participation in the design, implementation and management of JFM in one of its project areas. As part of this larger three year study, it was decided to look at the differences in men and women's involvement in the JFM project cycle and, by extension, its implications for their differential access to and control over forest resources. It was understood that men and women's responsibilities vis-a-vis the collection of forest resources for household consumption differs. Therefore, if both are not equally represented in JFM decision making their different needs may get overlooked at best, and at worse, JFM may actually increase their drudgery (Narain 1994: 3). This apprehension is particularly significant in the case of women, who it is argued, have a deeper relationship with forests than men, since they are responsible for the daily provision of household fuelwood and fodder needs. In addition, women's knowledge about the use and management of tree species may differ from men's.
Yet to the extent that women do participate in JFM activities it is mostly as wage labour with some token representation on village level forest protection committees. It was envisaged that the research would be able to identify critical points in the plantation project cycle where women's participation could be introduced or enhanced so as to ensure a greater stake for women both in the management of community forest resources, as well as in decision-making concerning the distribution of benefits.
This paper seeks to contextualise the relationship between women, men and forest resources in a given area, and analyse the institutional factors which constrain women's participation in forest management. Institutional factors are multi-dimensional, inter-related, and subject to change. They include, at the macro-policy level, the ideological construction of the women/gender and environment relationship which determines development interventions; at the intermediate or implementing level, the structure of gendered space within development organisations; and at the micro-level, the nature of intra- and inter-household gender relations which affect women's ability to effectively participate in decision-making.
The paper is based on some tentative findings from ongoing fieldwork in two villages of Bharuch district, Gujarat, where AKRSP has been promoting forest regeneration since the early 1990s.