Participatory exclusions, community forestry, and gender: An analysis for South Asia and a conceptual framework
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The study is based on fieldwork conducted in India and Nepal and it demonstrates how the management of local natural resources by village communities can exclude the most disadvantaged. The article provides a map of participation, particularly women's participation, pointing out the implication of exclusion. Participation is defined by rules, norms and perceptions, and these can disadvantage women individually and as a group. Women's bargaining power depends on the form/level of participation. The paper defines participation in six ways; nominal, passive, consultative, activity-specific, active and interactive (empowering). State-initiated groups have two structures; the so called general body and an exclusive committee (in the Forestry Community being the Forestry User Groups (FUGs)). The power of the voices heard rests on the way the groups are structured. For women to participate effectively they would have to be members, participate and contribute, and ensure that at least some decision favor them. This means that women would have to be interactive (empowered) members. Women in East Nepal are not even nominal members representing only 3.5 percent of most FGUs. In Nepal the unit of membership is the household, and as head of household only the men's names enter the membership list. Without being member women generally know very little about what was discussed at meetings. Even when women are members they rarely attend meetings. Forest closure impact women and their roles, as a result often girls are pulled out of school to help their mothers. Women have very little say in fund allocation and rarely profit from benefit sharing. Women as non-members do not receive, but often refunds are given to the men as head of household. Participation is also determined by the rules, and social norms that impose gender segregated public spaces, gender division of labour, gendered behavioural norms. Social perceptions (often negative perceptions of women) reinforce the lack of participation. Also, men's claims and control over community structures, and personal and household hierarchy related to caste and gender can further determine the level of women's participation. The study defends that in the future, women's visible contribution and collective strength can relax social norms and perceptions.