Feature Story

Empowering women to boost forest sciences

February 22, 2021

Ugandan women comparing forest data
With the right tools and training, women can add a different perspective to land-use planning that can make land management more sustainable and inclusive. Joanita Nabulime, a GIS Technician at the National Forestry Authority (NFA) of Uganda, collects forest data collection in a training activity above. Photo: NFA Uganda

Five years into the Paris Agreement, much progress has already been made in efforts to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Despite our progress, there is still a long way to go to achieve the goals set out by the Paris Agreement, and everyone needs to be a part of the solution –  especially women.

Gender inequality can hamper the ability of countries to explore the full potential of their climate actions. Over 40% of the countries committed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) include gender-related issues in their Nationally Determined Contributions. Recognizing the role women can play in climate planning and action, countries adopted a new five-year Gender Action Plan (GAP) at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) Climate Change Conference to take a more gender-responsive approach to climate action.

The Food and Agriculture Organization's own GEF-funded Building global capacity to increase transparency in the forest sector (CBIT-Forest) project – celebrating its first year of implementation – has gender equality as one of the key pillars to make forest data more transparent and accessible in line with the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) under the Paris Agreement. In its first year of implementation, the project reported on strong participation from women in their capacity-building activities. For instance, the capacity development and awareness-raising global webinars on open and transparent forest data saw a 40% participation rate from women – a significant number considering the traditionally limited involvement of women in forest-related work.

One of the participants, Ms. Joanita Nabulime, appreciated the positive impact of the virtual workshops. As a GIS Technician at the National Forestry Authority (NFA) of Uganda, she says that “the CBIT-Forest project has empowered me and my female colleagues to not only collect data but to also be involved in the inventory cycles. The project has also guided us in identifying areas of improvement.”

Joanita noted the challenges faced by women in the field of forestry, both as practitioners in forest sciences and as stewards of forests in their communities. “One of the biggest challenges is that women don’t have ownership and property rights and very few women own plantations while others are just on paper and have no access to these plantations. Most women are discouraged by society to work in forestry saying that it is work for men.”

The CBIT-Forest project started implementation around the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic halted movement locally and internationally. As a result, the project activities were quickly adapted to virtual workshops and piloted in six countries (GuatemalaHondurasUgandaCote d’Ivoire, Thailand, and Laos). Joanita participated in the pilot workshops in Uganda, and she valued the rich discussions with the facilitators and colleagues from the forestry and agriculture sector in Uganda and beyond, all while staying safe at home. In addition, Joanita found the capacity-building activities to be particularly insightful in understanding the power of her ongoing work on creating land cover and land use maps and statistics. It helped draw the connection to how her work can be useful in the broader work on forest data transparency.

While there still remain opportunities for greater gender balance in forestry, projects like CBIT-Forest make it possible to bring women into capacity-building efforts by enabling them to engage with science, technology and innovation. The project has reported a participation rate of 30-40% from women in its project activities, including pilot workshops, global webinars, and a massive open online course (MOOC). Moreover, gender is covered as a cross-cutting issue on the e-learning course Forest and transparency under the Paris Agreement. The MOOC is open to all and offers opportunities for self-paced learning and a digital badge certification. In 2021, more global webinars and a second and third edition of the MOOC will be delivered.

This piece was originally published by FAO.