“If there is a meeting in the community and you see only men discussing the forest, you make sure that women join in to raise their own ideas on how we all use the forest.”
That’s how one participant of a forest governance training workshop for Liberian women summed up the empowering nature of community forestry laws.
Julie Weah, Executive Director of the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), and leader of the training agrees:
“That’s right,” Julie says, “The men can’t – and legally should not – do it alone.”
The training, commissioned by ClientEarth and our in-country lawyers, Heritage Partners and Associates (HPA), brings together women involved in community forestry and natural resource management to learn about their rights to forest land and resources.
Women, forest management and the law
Women in Liberia are major users of forests and forest products, such as wood for fuel, medicinal plants and wild foods. Correspondingly, deforestation and degraded forests impact heavily on women in rural areas of the country and exacerbate food insecurity and loss of livelihoods.
Research, including a recent report by ClientEarth, has shown that granting management rights to communities over their forest land reduces deforestation. Halting deforestation is crucial in humanity’s efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change. Women’s participation in community forestry results in better conserved and protected forests.
However, women are traditionally not the decision-makers in Liberia and women’s opinions are not always sought on questions of how the forest should be used or managed.
The question of how these traditions can be adjusted to secure women’s rights is one that the law can partly answer. Requiring women’s membership on community forestry committees, enabling their participation, and providing leadership opportunities represent important means by which women may exercise and secure their rights.
ClientEarth, HPA and FCI have teamed up to help women build their knowledge of these rights.
Julie explains our aims: “When women understand the law and their rights, they will have the capacity to participate in discussions and decision-making processes. Empowering women to raise their own issues around forest governance and community development is the only way to ensure that their voices are heard and respected.”
In many areas, Liberian laws are progressive and gender equality is no different. According to Liberia’s forest laws, community forest decision-making must include women’s voices, as well as voices of the youth and elders.
“Stronger female leadership overall”
To help women access the laws, each participant received a copy of the collection of forest laws in Liberia, collated by ClientEarth and HPA. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘forest Bible’, the law collection includes laws on forests, lands and the environment.
Counsellor Lucia Gbala from HPA explains: “Laws are crucial – but only useful if you know where to find them. That is the value of the forest Bible.”
Following the training, the women return to their communities or to their women’s groups with the law guidebook.
According to research by ClientEarth on community forest laws, the positive impact of increased women’s involvement in community forestry across different regions of the world has extended to wider increases in the confidence and capacity of women to engage, resulting in stronger female leadership overall, well beyond forest management.
In Liberia, increasing women’s knowledge of their rights to participate in forest decision-making is a small contribution to their growing participation in forest conservation.