Gender and forests in Nicaragua's indigenous territories. From national policy to local practice

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Summary

Local governance of natural resources is a key issue in the autonomous and inclusive development of indigenous territories. However, little attention has been given to the local dynamics that determine who governs what, especially gender dynamics. Through literature and field research, the study ‘Gender, Tenure and Community Forests in Nicaragua’ aimed at providing insights into understanding how indigenous women participate in the management of forests and forest resources. The study consisted of two main components. The first of these involved key informant interviews and the analysis of secondary information, national and regional laws and policies, and nongovernmental organisation (NGO) and donor projects regarding gender and natural resource management. The second involved focus groups in 18 rural indigenous communities to analyse women’s participation in forest-related decisions.

The study indicates that Nicaragua’s laws and regulations on gender and on forests appear useful and reasonably comprehensive when considered separately; nevertheless, there are gaps between the two issues at all levels. That is, national laws are inclusive but have resulted in generic policies. Hence, to the extent that gender has been mainstreamed, it has made women’s issues invisible; the result is a lack of particular or targeted actions that would lead to more comprehensive and holistic alternatives for women and for forests.The study found that government actions on forests and natural resources, although mandated to include a crosscutting approach to gender, are diluted into larger development processes or remain at a simple quantification of men and women incorporated into projects (called ‘affirmative actions’). There is little genuine analysis of women’s roles or importance for more inclusive and balanced development processes by the state institutions or NGOs that are implementing projects in indigenous communities. Hence, the ‘participation’ that predominates is incipient and superficial, above all with regard to natural resources.

Although the study cannot give a precise answer regarding the degree of empowerment and interactive participation that occurs inside indigenous communities, in the majority of communities, those holding the power and decision-making posts are men. For example, there are very few successful experiences of women as wihta or síndico – the key positions with power over forests and other natural resources. NGOs and government entities have not yet contemplated the forest as an arena in which indigenous men and women are co-owners without distinction, in which to integrate equitable management institutions. A new vision for the management of forests means bringing in all of the community members who benefit from forests and forest resources; both communities and outside institutions need to reflect critically on their actions and activities and on their gendered assumptions regarding forests.