Magazine article Connexions

Trees for Life

Magazine article Connexions

Trees for Life

Article excerpt

(Excerpted from "National Development Plans Still Ignoring Peasant Women," by Cassandra Balchin, a Depthnews Women's Feature, published in the Philippines, June 1992.)

Water and fuelwood. These are needs which peasant women face daily, and whose supply and conservation is their pressing concern. Sadly, however, peasant women are most likely to be missing in meetings on the environment.

Women are bypassed in consultations on development because they are poor and they are women, as was pointed out at a regional conference on women and environment held recently in Lahore.

The conference, sponsored by the non-governmental Aurat Foundation and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), is one of many efforts in South Asia to organise peasant women and give them a voice. It was clear from the meeting that rural women across the region are both keenly aware of environment-related problems and eager to do something about them.

Whether it is too little, too far away, too dirty or too much, water is a burden left for women to bear. Julekha Begum from Bangladesh recalled that when devastating floods in 1991 hit her country, "The men ran away. It was the women who stayed to protect our homes, our children, our poultry, our cattle and our stores."

But the men do not always like it when women decide to act. Chandika Shrestha, a community worker from Nepal, recounted her battle to persuade the men in her village to allow 500 donated saplings planted by the women to grow. Twice the men drove their herds through the fenced saplings, leading to charges from development authorities that the women did not know how to protect the saplings and should therefore be excluded from the reforestation programme.

On the third try, with the donation now down to only 250 saplings, door-to-door persuasion by Chandika finally spared the saplings. "I convinced them everybody will benefit (from the trees). I explained the advantages of forests," she said.

In many cases, the absence of women's perspectives has increased women's workloads. Nepali participants spoke of how their search for firewood has been made more arduous by the passing of high-tension wires through their villages for electricity. Although many areas through which the pylons pass still do not have power, for each pylon an unnecessarily large area of one square kilometre is cleared, reducing firewood resources.

Not that peasant women would rather live in the past. Sisilia Saran, a young woman from Bangladesh's tribal community, said she is aware that "sometimes you forego something to get something." She says, "It is the negative impact of development that has to be minimised."

(From "Afforestation Campaign: Zanzibar Women Forge Ahead." by Fatma Alloo in Sauti ya Siti, Tanzanian women's magazine, September 1989.)

Zanzibar women, like most African women, travel long distances of about eight kilometres searching for fuelwood. This energy-sapping and time-consuming work usually takes them about five to eight hours per day using their most common transportation method--the head load. Firewood collection is a daily task for women, since wood is the dominant fuel for rural and many of the urban dwellers.

Zanzibar has decided to minimise, if not solve, this problem of fuel wood scarcity to rural inhabitants, especially women.

In 1985, the Zanzibar government started village afforestation which involved the women, who are the main users of wood fuel. It initiated the tree planting campaign with the objectives of providing local supplies of fuel wood, and building poles and charcoal in order to satisfy basic wood needs and to cut down on their workloads.

Other objectives were to provide income in the rural areas through the establishment of small woodlots, so forest products could be used for commercial purposes to improve their village conditions. All in all, they aimed at supplementing the efforts in the rehabilitation of the general environment. …

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