Empowered women and the men behind them: A study of change within the Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development Project in Nepal
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The political conflicts between Maoist groups and the government increase women's work load as they are left behind alone and without forest programs. This case study examines the incorporation of gender interests into a forestry project (Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development Project (HLFFDP)) in Nepal. As a result of which we could observe changes in attitudes in both rural women, and staff of the Department of Forest (DOF). Traditionally, religion, ethnicity, culture, law, history and social attitudes place severe limits on women's participation in public life. The forestry department is immersed in masculine traits, expectations and constraints. There is a lack of women staff, low budgets for women-related activities and imbalance in the decision making processes through participation. The government's plan for 2000 recognizes women as important players in poverty reduction. HLFDDP appointed an all-women team with full autonomy to address the organizational culture, and to create change. Initially there was some resistance to the women's work based on the lack of previous experience and gender taboos. However the impacts were significant. The all-women group promoters (GP) were knowledgeable and effective at securing resources, and showed confidence speaking out and in their leadership skills. The mid-level foresters, mainly male, through gender training also learned to respect and support the women's team. As a result, the DOF have publicly demonstrated respect for these women and rural women in general. In 2001 the program was canceled, revealing the persistent gender gap remains institutionalized. The GPs continued to work even without pay, only being able to secure funding a year later. Although forestry is a male dominated sphere, these groups of women and the men supporting them, managed to create some significant change related to perceptions of women and their ability to be effective. There is a need to reproduce the successes of these collaborations, and to continue to challenge the male dominated, political, and economic status quo in similar projects.