All-Women vs. Mixed-Gender Community Forest User Groups in Nepal; which model serves womens interests best?
Although there are, on paper, 1072 All-Women Community Forest User Groups (AWCFUGs) in Nepal, this concept, and its impact on female empowerment, decision-making, participation and so forth has never been fully explored. Drawing on the two case studies in the Kaski district, various interviews, previous studies and theoretical knowledge this thesis explores the history of the AWCFUG concept, their prevalence, obstacles, characteristics and outcome. To the author’s knowledge, this thesis is the first to explore the AWCFUG concept in depth.
This thesis finds that AWCFUGs is predominantly an on the ground concept that emerged as the result of external influence from donors, NGOs and federations, rather than being a result of governmental promotion. Internal factors plays a critical role for AWCFUGs. Community men, the respect around women, external intervention and the overall social and cultural norms either serves as a foundation for AWCFUGs to thrive or acts as participatory exclusion mechanisms. The research also revealed that AWCFUGs has a changing nature and struggles to remain as AWCFUGs due to time constraints, lack of suitable female replacements, lack of capabilities and growing managing responsibilities. AWCFUGs differed in the analysis by having a bigger external interest than mixed gender CFUGs. There were more training and educational programmes, visits, organisations and opportunities, which are all important aspects of furthering female empowerment and active participation. AWCFUGs were also found to force societal change in the communities, something that is crucial to ensure that women can participate on equal footing with men in Community Forestry (CF).
One of the reasons CF in general has become such a wide reaching phenomenon in Nepal, is due to the collaborative effort of the many involved stakeholders. From capacity building, local knowledge sharing, promotion, policies, technical assistance et cetera, all stakeholders has done their part, often overlapping one another. For AWCFUGs to become a useful grass root level tool to empower women, this collaborative effort has to extend to the AWCFUG concept and not just mixed gender CFUGs.
This thesis also evaluates whether AWCFUGs is something donors and/or governments should pursue as an approach to efficiently and effectively enhance the influence of women in CF.
The concept of AWCFUG is still underexplored, but the findings from this thesis provides a platform to work with going forward.