Empowerment or marginalization: A debate in community forestry in Nepal
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The article exposes the twofold potential of community Forestry management programs. On one hand the forum has the potential to be a vehicle of empowerment for the most disadvantaged groups such as women, poor, and 'lower' castes. In many instances, women's participation has been increasing. Some groups even targeted women to be the recipients of trainings improving women's ability to fully participate. In many areas women have led others to form and lead groups and co-operatives. Community forestry management programs are supposed to allow local people's participation in decision making processes such as the management of their own resources, and through discussion regarding development projects. These discussions often reflect the need to build a school, irrigation systems, drinking water, or road development. Many see community forestry to have more impact than local governments. On the other hand, community forestry management programs can be a vehicle to reinforce marginalization of the same local people with policies and programs that benefit elites. These policies reinforce the control and access of the Forest User Group Committee (FUCs) mainly composed by elite members. Hence the title: Empowerment or marginalization. The analysis is based on the concept that empowerment through participation depends on the existing socio-political power structures. This being, participation can be empowering only if it allows the less heard to challenge the status quo and to create change that favours them. The articles give an example of how an abandoned woman was trapped by the exploitative nature of the FUC policies which further marginalized her.