Local communities manage a significant portion of the world’s remaining forests, pastures, and fisheries as common property resources, but they are rarely recognized as formal owners. Important progress has occurred during the last twenty years, as growing evidence suggests that devolving rights to communities can provide incentives for new forms of investment that facilitate sustainable outcomes as well as greater equity in the distribution of benefits. While much has been learned over recent decades from progress in tenure rights recognition worldwide, less is known about the reform processes that can lead to better outcomes for women and other marginalized groups. To respond to this challenge, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) analyzed data collected using quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze different reform processes in Uganda, Peru, and Indonesia. These reforms included several changes in laws, legal provisions, policies, and institutions that redefined the rights and responsibilities over who uses, manages, and controls forest resources and how.
The results show that there has been important progress for women’s tenure security in the three countries analyzed. Nevertheless, specific outcomes for women depend on the characteristics of implementation. For example. at the communal or group level, our research shows that whether women participate in forest tenure reforms depends on local governance structures and rules (e.g. local agreements of who is considered part of the collective), as well as by household dynamics. Therefore, identifying who is the subject of reforms and how women and men can be considered right holders is one of the different layers women need to go through to gain rights within collectives. Similarly, whether respondents perceived improved tenure security after the reforms depends on: gender (female), economic status (non-poor), being a member of an area subject to a reform, and being a member of a forest related organization; also, sources of tenure security include perception of clear boundaries, and perception that rights endure for the long term, and that the rights are not subject to conflict. Overall, positive perception of reforms is not only measured by the extent of rights granted but also the ability to protect these rights and benefit from them. This finding raises the importance of continued support for strengthening productive systems and building capacities to guarantee reform impacts even after issuing certificates, titles, or permits.
Across the three countries analyzed, there is no single type of reform that performs consistently better for men or for women. Nonetheless, processes of rights devolution can influence internal debates on how existing rules affect men and women differently and allow new forms of organizing that could empower women at the local level. The results in this study show that there is a need to establish clearer guidelines on how women should be accounted for in drafting and implementing reform processes. This requires clearly identifying women as subjects of reform and including specific targets in reform goals that specify how they will benefit. Interventions related to legal reforms, such as convening processes or mapping exercises, which do not involve women may risk formalizing or perpetuating existing inequities and may worsen tenure insecurity conditions.
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