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Women’s participation in decision making at the user-group level and in forest committees has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on forest sustainability. For example, women’s participation enhances forest regeneration and reduces illegal harvesting through improved monitoring. Their presence in forest user groups increases the groups’ capacity to manage and resolve conflict, which in turn increases the likelihood that resource users will comply with and respect harvesting and use rules. These insights have been especially useful in informing policy and project interventions designed to strength and amplify women’s participation. This paper adopts a cross-national approach and employs quantitative techniques to analyze the relative performance of groups with different male-female composition (female-dominated, mixed-gender, and male dominated user groups) in forest management. The study was conducted in Bolivia, Mexico, Kenya and Uganda. Although all four of these countries have decentralized their forestry sectors during the past 15 years, their relevant institutions differ in their design. Also, the conditions leading to the governance reforms in these four countries are diverse. Whereas the East African countries have a long history of protectionist objectives, the Latin American countries have a long history of community forestry enterprises and of the struggle for more inclusive forestry practice and equitable distribution of benefits from forestry enterprises. Data were collected using the methodology of the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) research program. Participatory focus groups among community members were used to explore institutions and local perceptions of forest conditions and their demographics, while key informant interviews (with forestry officials for example) were used to obtain official perceptions of forest condition, the nature of conservation measures adopted by user groups. Key informant interviews with local authorities were also conducted to establish the number and nature of activities conducted by community based organizations, private organizations and other government organizations with mandates and/or activities that have implications for local forest management. Data were collected for 39 forests in Bolivia, Mexico, Kenya and Uganda, during two separate visits to each forest between 1993 and 2008. The analysis is conducted at two levels—the forest and the user group, this allows us to incorporate the perceptions of forestry authorities as well as that of user groups themselves with regard to forest condition. In total, 290 user groups were divided into three categories based on the proportion of women in each group. These categories were: male dominated (women comprising one-third or less of the group), mixed (women comprising between one-third and two-thirds of the group) and female dominated (women comprising two-thirds or more of the group). These three categories accounted for 40%, 37% and 23% of the 290 user groups, respectively. The research presented in this paper advances our knowledge of how women may influence forest management. The research adopts a comparative approach, which is intended to identify synergies within regions and to create a learning environment that may lead to improved forest management. The study investigates different gender composition group’s property rights to forest resources, harvesting preferences, participation in rule making, relative investments in forest management and the outcomes of these activities. Our empirical analysis offers three important findings. First, gender composition is important. Female-dominated groups tend to have more property rights to trees and bushes, and collect more fuel wood and less timber than do male-dominated or mixed groups. Mixed-gender groups participate more in forestry decision making and are more likely to exclude other groups from harvesting from the forest. Female-dominated groups invest less, sanction less and exclude less. The finding that female-dominated groups are less likely than other groups to participate in decision making or invest in forest improvements is not controversial. Time constraints, male bias in the delivery of extension services, and a lack of information can depress investments and participation. Moreover, a huge literature has shown that due to social and cultural norms that limit their roles to the private sphere, women often lack experience, confidence and skills to engage in the public sphere. Mixed groups on the other hand, perform consistently better in all forestry functions, including in exclusion. An earlier study has suggested that mixed groups exploit the complementary advantages of men and women and have better access to information and services from external agents. Second, the implementation of decentralization reforms strengthens user groups’ property rights to forest products and has reduced actual user groups’ actual harvest levels. Also, decentralization has encouraged user groups to participate in forest management activities, including participation in decision making and sanctioning. These gains sit well with the normative expectations of decentralization reforms. By expanding and/or strengthening property rights and management responsibilities, they were intended to create incentives for sustainable use and management. However, such incentives are even more effective when users have full rights to resource benefits as well. Third, there exists regional difference. User groups in the Latin America tend to invest more, than the ones in Africa. While the exact reasons driving this outcome is not immediately evident, we hypothesize that a longer history and experience of community involvement (the outcome of longstanding struggles in broad policy reforms) in forest management may have also influenced the magnitude of benefits accrued to community actors.


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