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Monday, March 4, 2024

IWD 2024: Empowering Women Leadership in Conservation

Women are crucial to the Philippines’ agriculture, fisheries, and forestry (AFF) sectors. The United Nations highlights that women have the highly specialized knowledge of forests from species diversity, management of resources, to conservation and restoration practices that are vital to sustainable development and food security. The Philippines demonstrates its appreciation for women in these sectors with the Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Plan (GEWE Plan) 2019-2025 to expand economic opportunities for them. 

But gender disparities persist. The Philippine Commission on Women reports that women in the AFF sectors face marginalization in employment, pay, and resource access, constituting only about 25% of workers and often receiving lower wages. Women's significant contributions to AFF are also generally overlooked as their work is typically considered household tasks. 

Rita Wati and her fellow women pioneers in the Maju Bersama movement during their activity in Kerinci Seblat National Park. 

Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ikhsan.

This International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024, Indonesia-based environmental organization that focuses on awareness raising and policy advocacy, The Institute for Studies, Advocacy, and Education (LivE) shares insights on how local organizations can overcome the gender disparities by empowering women to take the helm in sustainability and conservation. 

Driving Change with Indonesia's Pioneering Women-Led Conservation Movement

Finding the balance between environmental protection and economic empowerment often met with a dead end, or in most cases, a sacrifice from the one on the other side. This is often made worse by policies that did not consider grassroots aspirations, such as what happens in Indonesia’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, in the western part of Sumatra island.

Public apathy toward conservation of the park led to the depletion of 130,322 hectares in 2014. This impacted the decrease of biodiversity, the water sources, the support systems for many agricultural fields that the surrounding communities depend on. As a result, there was a disproportionate impact on farmers, especially women farmers as they faced not only water scarcity, soil fertility, and crop yields but also the cascading effect on it.

Recognizing the importance of forest conservation and the untapped potential of women in nearby communities, LivE initiated training sessions addressing women's rights in forest management. These sessions tackled challenges encompassing health, domestic responsibilities, production roles, and social engagement, linking them to environmental strains. This is where Rita Wati, a 52-year-old native of Kerinci Seblat National Park and now chairperson of "Women's Group for Environmental Care Maju Bersama," emerged as a driving force behind the park's conservation efforts.

In the early days of her advocacy, Wati faced skepticism for being a woman in role that is often assumed by men and challenges in evolving conservation regulations. She persevered in initiating discussions with the national park authorities which enabled her organisation to submit a proposal that allowed them to be involved in managing, conserving and benefiting from the national park—leading Wati to ink a historic conservation partnership agreement with the national park, marking Maju Bersama group as the pioneering women's group managing a forest area in Indonesia.

"It's truly a joy. Inspired by our progress, now, women in many villages are no longer silent. They are ready to move together to fight for women's rights to the environment and forests," said Rita.

Advocating nature protection and women empowerment 

The success story of Maju Bersama group, now comprising 25 members, in securing their rights to participate in forest conservation has sparked a wave of positive outcomes. Beyond empowering their own businesses, they've honed their capacities, influenced policies, and actively engaged in pivotal decision-making processes. 

Rita's impactful journey includes participating in national events like The Asia Foundation's 'The Role of Women in Social Forestry for Food Resilience' in 2019 and contributing to the establishment of the Indonesia Social Forestry Manager Association. Recognized by local authorities, Rita leads the park in gender-equitable conservation, aligning with UNESCO's World Heritage Site standards. Her unwavering determination and successful collaboration between the Maju Bersama group and Kerinci Seblat National Park inspire women to advocate for environmental rights, bannering women empowerment in environmental preservation. 

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