FEATURE STORY March 7, 2019

Want to Protect Forests? Engage More Women, Says Nepal’s Joint-Secretary for Forests

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Photo: courtesy of Radha Wagle


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Radha Wagle, Nepal’s first woman Joint-Secretary and Chief at the REDD Implementation Centre under the Ministry of Forests and Environment, is working to make the forestry sector more inclusive for women and marginalized groups.
  • Wagle has helped finalize a Gender Action Plan that identifies ways to make forestry programs more responsive to the needs of women and encourages women’s participation at all levels of government, civil society and the private sector, with support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
  • Women have valuable experience in managing land use and water resources, and conserving forests and biodiversity, especially in fragile environments. Their knowledge is key to adapting to climate change.

When Radha Wagle was a young forest ranger in Eastern region of Nepal, she became aware of a stark paradox in the land use sector. With the significant amount of time women spent gathering fuelwood for energy use, fodder for livestock, medicinal plants and herbs, she saw the essential role women play in agriculture, livelihoods and natural resources management.

Yet, she also observed—and experienced herself—how women were marginalized time and time again in this male-dominated field.

“Some clients would request a male ranger for the service they sought, such as making a forest management plan, providing technical support or writing a letter. Even if I told them that I could do it, they would deny it and wait for a male ranger to become available,” Wagle recalls.

If this was happening in this region, Wagle became convinced it was happening across the country, and she was determined to do something about it. In 2015, she became the first woman Joint-Secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment in Nepal. In this role, she is focusing her efforts on increasing the engagement of Nepalese women in forest management.

It’s a challenging task in a country where less than 20% of women own land, and many (especially those from poor and marginalized groups) lack strong roles in decision-making in their households and communities. She is leading a consultation process with communities to address forest-related issues that affect women, indigenous peoples, socially-stigmatized lower castes, and the poor. 

“These groups know forests better than anyone. If we are serious about preserving and sustainably managing land resources to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, they need to be engaged every step of the way,” says Wagle.

Driven by her personal experiences with discrimination as a forest ranger, Wagle is also developing a ‘gender code of conduct’ to protect women foresters against sexual harassment, exclusion and bullying. The code of conduct is currently being elaborated through an extensive consultation process, involving multiple district, regional and national-level workshops. Ultimately, Wagle aims to use the finalized document to help sensitize ministerial staff and senior management, prior to launching the code of conduct at the district and local levels.


"The forestry sector can be made women-inclusive only when women working in all three areas – government, civil society, and the private sector – are united and empowered. Women’s active participation and leadership in these three key areas can transform the forestry sector as a whole in terms of women’s dignity and gender equality. "
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Radha Wagle
Nepal’s Joint-Secretary and Chief at the REDD Implementation Centre under the Ministry of Forests and Environment

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Photo: courtesy of Radha Wagle


Empowering women entrepreneurs

Wagle has helped finalize Nepal’s Gender Action Plan, which maps the social, economic and political conditions that women face in the country’s forestry sector, with support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). The plan also looks at the opportunities and benefits from activities that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), such as creating jobs for women, promoting greater awareness of forestry resources and active participation from women in forest management.  

“The forestry sector can be made women-inclusive only when women working in all three areas – government, civil society, and the private sector – are united and empowered. Women’s active participation and leadership in these three key areas can transform the forestry sector as a whole in terms of women’s dignity and gender equality,” says Wagle.

Wagle says the answer can be found in successful programs in the country, such as community forestry, which requires that each community forestry user group has at least half women members. Also, at least half of the executive committee must be women, and either the chairperson or secretary (or both) must be a woman.

"I want to see an inclusive forestry sector with fifty percent participation of women engaged in forest management with an influential role and dignity,” says Wagle.

Inspired by these advancements, Wagle keeps her eye on the big picture as she continues to pave the way for women in forest management. She says, “True gender equality is both an indicator and a driver for economic growth.

 



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