Gender and Green Governance
Oxford University Press
n R550 n pp 496
When the personal is also public, the rules of the game change. Like the onus of collecting firewood to keep their home fires burning is on Indian and Nepalese women but excluding them from governing local forest resources has led to dwindling forest cover and a firewood crisis.
Bina Agarwal shows that where women are the decision-makers within community forest institutions in Nepal and India, forests are greener, firewood and fodder needs better satisfied and women are more empowered. This argument is supported by empirical evidence from economics, environmental studies, gender analysis and political science. Though poor and illiterate, they have become more than arm-chair decision-makers.
The book talks about how collectives are more effective than individual voices, the importance of adequate representation and what constitutes the ‘critical mass’ for representation — the magical one-third, less or more? Agarwal suggests 25 to 33% for adequate representation and 50% for gender parity.
Agarwal recognises the role of civil society organisations in empowering women’s groups in forest governance but her idea to link these with self-help groups is not likely to help when the latter have become entities for dumping credit and government largesse.
One would have liked Agarwal to discuss public hearings and how to make them gender-responsive. It is also crucial to debate the point she raises about involving local women to increase forest cover to fight climate change.
Aditi Kapoor is with Oxfam International