Effective forest governance makes for powerful women in rural Tanzania

Asia Ngakola is a strong woman - local people in Nanjirinji A elected her as the Chairperson to represent one of their sub-villages in the Village Council

5 Villages' Self-Assessments of their Forest Governance Efficacy against 9 Criteria

5 Communities' Self Assessments of Gender and Equity in their villages

Gender plays an important part in forest management, as men and women in rural areas are apt to use forests differently. Men tend to use a wide area of forest for infrequent hunting of small game and timber harvesting, whereas women and children are the primary firewood gatherers and so visit nearby forests daily or weekly. Women have thus traditionally been active in many forest-related activities and so it is important that they are actively involved in forest management and decision making processes. Accordingly, MCDI mainstreams gender concerns into our work. One way in which we do this is by ensuring that a minimum of one third of local government committees, including locally-elected Village Natural Resources Committees (VNRCs), which are responsible for forest management, are comprised of women.

However, even with adequate female representation in governing organs and work places, culturally, it is not unusual for Tanzanian women to be deferent around men to a certain extent. This is by no means as bad where we work in Kilwa District as it is in some other parts of Tanzania. There are certainly some strong women in the villages where MCDI works and plenty of female-headed households, a situation which does not imply any shame for the woman concerned. Building on this, we vigorously encourage female committee members to participate actively in decision making. This has even resulted in women being elected into leadership roles in some villages, such as Asia Ngakola (image left) who was selected to represent her sub-villages in Nanjirinji A.

The importance of gender equity is emphasised during the training that we provide to improve local governance of forests and forest resources. This training begins with a quantitative self-assessment of governance quality in each village using a novel scorecard that includes within it a set of indicators specifically designed to address gender issues. The scoring system comprises nine criteria of good governance, each of which has a series of indicators which participants use to reflect upon their performance and assign themselves a score along a five-point Likert scale, from -2 (meaning very poor performance) to +2 (very high performance). The outcomes of these assessments in each village form a backdrop against which governance training is framed by focusing on key areas in need of improvement.

This International Women’s Day, we take a look at the outcomes of our gender indicator in village governance assessments in a bit more detail, comparing findings from five villages in 2017. Next year, we will work with these villages to evaluate their governance again, so that we can assess their progress and set targets for the coming years. 

As can be seen from the chart to the left, villages performed best under criteria relating to the management and access to forest resources, as well as economic development. This is not surprising, since, at MCDI, our core strategy is centred around enabling rural villages’ to secure their forest user rights (access) and to sustainably manage these forests (management) in order to generate revenues with which to fund their own development (economic development). Villages also performed well in organisation, gender equity and network development, while the poorest aspects of governance were communication and conflict management, demonstrating that we need to work to improve local capacity in these areas.

We use six indicators in order to measure gender and equity, which rely on the degree to which participants agree or disagree with the following statements about governance in their village:

  1. The percentage of comments coming from women in village meetings is equal to those coming from men.
  2. Rights, duties and punishments regarding forest management or forest misuse are the same for everyone in the village.
  3. There is equal representation of gender in the community-wide village assembly meetings.
  4. There is equal representation of age groups in the community-wide village assembly meetings.
  5. There is equal representation of the sub-villages in the village assembly meetings, and their specific concerns are considered.
  6. Decision making is inclusive meaning that people who are not leaders can speak in the village assembly meetings and their comments are taken into account.

While all five of the villages that we assessed in 2017 scored themselves positively on this indicator, some did better than others (see second chart to the left). Nainokwe village, for instance, performed very well, whereas it is clear that more work is needed to improve equity in forest governance in Likawage village.

The outcomes of this assessment have been used to inform the focus of our governance training in the villages we support. For example, we know that, while Nainokwe is doing very well at addressing gender issues, the local people don't regard their leaders as doing quite so well at maintaining open communication on forest management issues. By contrast, while Likawage village needs some more work to address issues of gender in relation to forest governance, the village performed exceptionally well on indicators relating to effective decision making, forest access and economic development.

We have been working with village leaders to enhance their capacity to address these issues in their communities and hope to be able to report on improvements across all key indicators in the villages following our assessments next year. Stay tuned!