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23 Aug 2016 | Voices from the field

He said, she said: Tree species perceived differently by men and women

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Forests are a lifeline for men and women in rural areas. They provide timber for building homes and sheds, wood for making household and farm implements, fuelwood for cooking, herbs that can be used for food and medicine, fodder for livestock, and litter for livestock bedding and farm manure.

In the forests in far-west Nepal a variety of trees such as pines, cedars, oaks, cherries, rhododendrons, lyonias, alders, and horse chestnuts can be found.

Rural women and men possess vast knowledge on the different types of trees found in their forests – their names, their growth habits, and their uses.

But the usefulness of a tree species is perceived differently by women and men.

In order to understand these differences between the perceptions of women and men and the subsequent implications for forest management, a transdisciplinary team from the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) conducted an exercise with members of community forest user groups in far-west Nepal. This work was also part of KSLCDI’s long term environmental and socio-ecological monitoring of forest ecosystems in the landscape.



Women and men rank (top) their preferred tree species using the pair-wise ranking system and present their priorities (bottom).

A pair-wise ranking system was used to systematically differentiate between priorities of women and men based on the ‘usefulness’ factor of a tree species found in the local forest. In this methodology, one tree species is paired with another tree species and ranked based on priority. This process is repeated with all other tree species found in the local forest.

In each of the three community forests surveyed, women and men prioritised different tree species in their forests: in Bajhang District, women prioritised paiyun – cherry tree (Prunus cerasoides), men prioritised timur – Nepalese pepper (Zanthoxylum armatum); in Darchula District, women prioritised lali gurans – rhododendron (Rhododendron arboreum), banjh – oak (Quercus lanata) and kaaphal – bayberry (Myrica esculenta), men prioritised timur and kaaphal; and in Khar VDC of Api Nampa Conservation Area, women prioritised banjh, while men prioritised dallo – Chinese mahogany (Toona serrata), okhar – walnut (Juglans regia) and lekh sallo – hemlock (Tsuga dumosa).

Why did the priorities of women differ from that of men? The reasons are closely associated with day to day work (She Said) or economic reasons (He Said).

Women looked at daily household needs when choosing their priority trees: the trees were a source of fodder or bedding for their livestock – paiyun, banjh; they were good fuelwood varieties – paiyun, lali gurans, banjh, kaaphal; aesthetic purposes — ‘the forest is pretty when rhododendrons are blooming’; and for rituals and religious purposes — paiyun is offered during prayer ceremonies and is a mandatory requirement during funeral rites.

Men, on the other hand, prioritised species that had greater financial value. ‘I am sure that the men chose timur because it can be sold to earn money’! commented a women participant from Bajhang. Timur’s medicinal properties make it a valuable resource — more than 1,000 metric tons of timur is exported annually from Nepal. Similarly, the financial value of dallo, okhar and lekh sallo is high as they produce quality timber.

She Said: Women prefer trees that are useful in the home or for aesthetic purposes. Banjh (left) is used as fodder and fuelwood, while lali gurans trees (right) beautify forests when they bloom.

Management of community forests in Nepal continues to be dominated by men — despite legislation making it compulsory for women to hold fifty percent of decision-making positions, only one third of executive committee positions are occupied by women. Among every ten chairpersons of community forest user groups in Nepal, only one is a woman.

Having a singular view of forests often leads to benefits for only a part of the community. Thus, incorporating the different priorities and needs of both women and men is particularly important when planning and implementing forestry activities including plantations, reforestation, and management.

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