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Gender Gains: Making progress towards empowering women through REDD+ implementation in DRC

Blog | Tue, 07 Mar, 2023 · 8 min read

Women walking in DRC (@UNEP)

In the heart of the Congo, in the northwest province of Equateur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a small, mostly Congolese team has been diligently tackling the myriad challenges of implementing REDD+ measures and actions, while concurrently striving to actively involve women and ensure their equitable benefits. The project, known as PIREDD Equateur (Programme intégré REDD+ pour un dévelopement durable dans le province d’Equateur), has been underway for three years, with the generous support of the Central African Forestry Initiative and the Swedish Government. The initiative has set very ambitious goals to holistically address the drivers of deforestation, while tackling the underlying concerns of rural livelihoods, land and resource governance, wood energy use and family planning.

In 2019, when the project was launched, challenges to engage women were immediately evident. In the DRC, rural women make up 84 percent of the agricultural labor force and are responsible for supplying wood, fuel and water to their families. They depend on the forest for more than half of their income, and yet have a much smaller role in forest governance and decision-making. Men dominate at all levels, from the household to the local and provincial government. Women rarely have control over property rights in the largely customary land tenure systems driven by patriarchal traditions. They suffer from lack of access to markets for their forest products, to training and capacity-building opportunities and to family planning services. All of these factors make women more vulnerable to climate change, and their exclusion constitutes a huge, missed opportunity towards achieving sustainable forest management. 

The PIREDD Equateur project has developed a Gender Strategy and Action Plan to counteract these tendencies and to provide a proactive stance to ensure women benefit equitably from project activities, with several key strategies put in place. First, each team member is required to complete an e-learning course on gender as part of the orientation process. This course provides a basic understanding of gender concepts and the importance of gender mainstreaming. In addition, the project team’s capacity on gender has been enhanced through training and ongoing coaching by a FAO gender expert. As a result, each team member is more aware of the importance of gender and the programme's gender objectives and has gained the necessary skills to integrate gender into his/her work.

In addition, the project’s Gender Action Plan identifies actions that are aimed specifically at addressing gender and women’s participation. These include ensuring women’s participation in the local development committees and community forestry committees facilitated by the project; organizing training for women on improved cassava production; highlighting women in project communication materials; and, integrating REPALEF, a women’s association, in the project’s steering committee. PIREDD Equateur has taken steps to ensure the project’s grievance mechanism is accessible to women by designing posters and organizing workshops at the village level. 

Furthermore, a project-wide goal of achieving at least 35 percent female participation in all events and activities has been set. This goal reflects the recommendation of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, but also aligns with the country’s national Gender Policy which calls for a discrimination-free society where all members have the same rights to participate and benefit from development. By setting an ambitious but realistic goal that applies to all activities, it is easier for the project team to remember and track women's participation. 

The team has endeavored to meet this goal for all activities, particularly for provincial-level meetings where most officials are male. Significant gains have been made and the most recent 2022 tally showed that overall women’s participation reached 65 percent, with many activities at the local level focused on women. These activities include the establishment of tree nurseries, the provision of agricultural training and inputs, the establishment of agroforestry systems including fruit trees, production of improved cookstoves, forest restoration and nutritional education. These results are also a very good example of the broader impacts of UN-REDD developed tools, including the UN-REDD Checklist for Gender Responsive Workshops and Beyond Headcounts, that have served to boost both the quantity and quality of women’s participation. 

On the eve of International Women’s Day, PIREDD Equateur would like to share the lessons learned on gender and women’s empowerment in the context of REDD+. Most importantly, the combination of many small, concrete actions by a committed team can bring about significant and measurable gains for achieving gender equality.