Written by Stephanie Lee Day 2 of UNFF 12 focused on discussions around gender equality and empowerment of women and girls (the 5th Sustainable Development Goal). Going with the theme of the day, a side event on women, forests and business opportunities was organised by Government of Finland & African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF). As a forestry student with a major interest in understanding more about mainstreaming gender in forestry related decision making, this side event provided an opportunity to be a part of the discussion and be able to contribute to the discussion as well.  The panelist for the session included Ms. Cecile Ndjebet, President of REFACOF, Ms Eva Mueller, Director of Forest Policy and Resources Division FAO, Ms. Harsha Rodrigues, Chief Strategy Officer of Women’s World Banking , Ms Satu Maria  Temiala, forester from Finland and Seemin Qayyum of UN Women. Overall the discussion emphasized on women entrepreneurs in the rural economy in particular forest, the key challenges encountered by women entrepreneurs, the entry points for addressing the barriers and recommendations to overcome them. An interesting part of the session was the presentation from Women’s world banking. The organisation aims to enable more low income women gain access to  financial tools and resources in order to build their security and prosperity. In this quest to empower women financially so that they can build their own business, the organisation did a lot of research on the perceptions of  women’s role in business and market. In the study conducted in Columbia, Peru and Paraguay, three roles of women in the market were identified namely –

  1. Contributor – involved in caring for family and subsistence farming, limited mobility
  2. Collaborator – jointly manages farm with other stakeholders
  3. Sole proprietor – contributes her own income generating activities and makes decisions in the family
It is interesting to note that women contribute 50% to household income in a consistent pattern. However this contribution to household income does not come easily to women as compared to men in the family. Women entrepreneurs face challenges such as the following –
  • Lack of technical and financial capacity to satisfy quality and quantity demand in the market
  • Seasonality of product poses a challenge to women who do not have the capacity to sustain production through out the year
  • Land and forest property rights is one the most crucial barrier to empowering women entrepreneurs
  • Women have no access to credit to dedicated funding mechanisms to help them upscale their enterprises
  • Some sectors are still male dominated such as bee keeping
  • Additionally, there are the societal norms and the rigid perception of women as being major care givers of the family which often makes it difficult to allow women to take on a different role.
To overcome some of these challenges some of the solutions discussed by the panelists were as follows –
  • Build technical, organisational and financial capacity of women entrepreneurs
  • Support value chain development to boost quality and quantity production of women entrepreneurs
  • Help them gain access to good markets
  • Increase in market share of products and services of women led entrepreneurs
  • Help and work actors who support women
  • Work with women to change their attitude and perception
  • Support leadership
At the end of the presentations and with the floor opened for comments and questions, it was interesting to observe that most of the discussions came from women present in the room, not that men were not present.  This is not surprising though because irrespective of so many dialogues and initiatives from the international community, equal gender right in particular for women is still being treated as an issue of discussion rather than a norm in the present society. So, does this conclude that all these initiatives are meaningless? No! We need to constantly bring the subject matter to the surface and reinforce the important role women play in forestry and other sectors of the economy.]]>