Women have been placed at the centre of a new initiative to conserve this country’s forests and at least two in hinterland communities have highlighted that outsiders are responsible for irresponsible practices.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are partnering with women countrywide under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus the sustainable management of forests, and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) initiative.
Through workshops, which will be held countrywide, but with emphasis on women living in forested areas, the ministry hopes to gain insight from women on what can be done to see the sustainable management of the forests.
“The ministry hopes to have far reaching consultations with the people of Guyana particularly those who use the forests and rely on it and need it for their sustenance. This workshop today gathers women, who I have realized are the nurturers of life, and [it] seems to be the most natural thing to do to ask them how to keep the forest alive and protected,” Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman yesterday said at the launch of the opening session and the first of a series of workshops, which was held at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown.
“I am quite impressed with the idea that this workshop is bringing help. I support it entirely and my only wish is that it comes out of the auspicious halls of the Pegasus Hotel and go into the communities soon, which I know there is a plan to do, so that the salt of the earth of Guyana- the women who do everything- can touch it like this,” he added.
Trotman singled out the IDB’s Guyana Mission head Sophie Makonnen for her leading role in getting the programme resuscitated in Guyana and called the first workshop the “fruits of her” dedication to the cause. “The ministry accepts that this was something we needed to do,” he stressed.
With threats to the sustainability of the livelihoods of communities that depend on the forest, Makonnen said that it was important to tap into the knowledge of women, who experience firsthand how forest degradation alters the forest and their indigenous and forest-dependent communities.
“The FCPF (Forest Carbon Partnership Facility) has recognised that empowering both women and men will result in improved conservation of forest resources. This workshop is an example of such an initiative, to increase the capacity of women in decision making on REDD+ in Guyana,” she said.
Makonnen pointed to the fact that despite their being slightly more women than men in Guyana’s population, women are underrepresented in almost all decision making positions, such as in Parliament, among Ministers of government and at the local government council levels.
“Historically, women participated less in village level government and decision-making institutions, and particularly those that address forest-related decisions. However, while there is still a long way to go to include women in decision making, it is encouraging when for the first time since its establishment, five councillors on the executive of the NTC (National Toshaos Council) are women,” she said, while turning to the women and offering congratulations, which was met with loud applause.
“While participation can be a burden, particularly for women who are almost always the ones in charge of the households in addition to other responsibilities and men may believe that ‘women’s place is not in the forest’, it is the perfect opportunity for women to take up decision-making roles beyond those of the household and have a voice for the sustainable use of forest resources for the generations to come,” she added.
Makonnen believes that the design of REDD+ policies and interventions must take into account women’s contributions to decision-making at the level of natural resources management and conservation.
Empowering women in the design of REDD+ policies and interventions must not result in reproducing an imitation of the male model of leadership, she asserted.
“Rather, empowering women in forest management and conservation is about ensuring that you (women) make decisions as mothers, grandmothers, daughters and as young women, without the fear of judgement in taking on leadership roles. Empowering women in decision making is essential if everyone is to benefit from this country’s bountiful resources,” she added.
Batavia, Region Seven resident Sienna John wanted the workshop to know that most of the forest degradation problems come not from her village but from outsiders, who come to work there and in surrounding villages, where they either cut the forests down for lumber or to clear the way for gold and diamond mining.
“We don’t cut the trees down in our villages. It is people who come from outside that cut trees to sell as wood and that thing. We don’t do that and our people that do that know [that] if you cut, you have to replant another tree in that space. We know that the forest is our life, so we protect the forests. I want to tell them that let us upkeep our forest and don’t come to destroy it, that is our life,” she said.
She added that she does craft making from forest products to support her family, and she wants to be able to pass on that skill to younger persons. However, she hopes that after the workshop, she will be able to better able to communicate and underscore the importance of forest preservation to them.
“I want to teach the youth [so] that they continue with craft and so on from the natural trees. The craft we make here comes from the etay (ité) trees, where we get tibisiri wear. We don’t cut the trees down to get this, we cut the shoots and then strip it and make craft work. When you cut the shoots the trees can grow still. I want them to know that we can use the forest in safe way, but still get what we need from it,” she said.
Laura Winter-Boventora’s expectations of the workshop were similar but she wanted to see a speedy end to what she believes is the reckless cutting of trees on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway, where she lives currently. She also hoped to take skills and knowledge gained from the workshop back to Region Nine, where she is from originally, to share with her family and friends.
“It is good to protect our forest and I want everyone around me to understand that. I live on the highways and I see what happens even there with the forest. People come, they cut down the trees and not doing nothing much after. Some people, you see they come and just cut down many, many trees and then I don’t know if the forestry [Guyana Forestry Commission Rangers] comes in on them or what but they just leave everything just there and gone. Living on the highway, I see that but like there is nobody to report it to. We want to know if we see what looks suspicious, like cutting down of trees, we can do something,” she said.