Globally, forest conservation is a top priority because of the link between deforestation and climate change. Corruption in the forestry sector leads to deforestation, with detrimental impacts for the climate and forest communities, especially women.
The link between gender equality and the control of corruption is quite well established in the literature. Several studies have confirmed that societies with more women in public office also exhibit better control of corruption. Some studies show that women are more risk-averse and less likely than men to cheat. While the causal mechanisms are not yet well understood, there is significant evidence to show that increasing female participation in public office can improve corruption control and policy effectiveness.
Few studies have examined the relationship between women’s participation and corruption in the forestry sector. As a result, ongoing efforts to reduce corruption in the forestry sector often disregard the importance of gender, while efforts to integrate gender into forestry activities do not necessarily consider corruption as a major obstacle to forest conservation and gender equality. However, a substantial amount of research has been done on gender and forestry. Men and women collect and use timber and non-timber forest products in different ways. Gender differences in the use of forest products depends on the level of commercialisation — women mostly collect products for subsistence use, and men collect forest products with high commercial value. Some activities like charcoal making, tree nurseries, and wood processing involve both women and men. There are variations in gender and forest usage across different localities and regions.
Corruption in the forestry sector manifests chiefly through illegal logging. The term refers to timber harvesting-related activities that are ‘inconsistent with national and sub-national law,’ and it ranges from illegal logging in protected areas to obtaining concessions illegally. It may also involve cutting protected species, cutting above the allowable cut, and cutting undersized trees. Corruption in this sector may also involve fraud, misappropriation, and elite capture in forestry conservation programmes. Both men and women may be involved in forestry-related corruption, but there are no studies as yet that illustrate gender dynamics on forestry-related corruption.
On the other hand, the gendered effects of forestry-related corruption can be inferred from several studies showing that women suffer the effects of corruption more than men because of their lower status in society, their maternal and caregiving functions, and their other household duties such as food preparation and fetching water. The negative effects of corruption are both direct, when women are victims of bribery and sextortion, and indirect, when corruption drains resources that could have been used to improve women’s lives. More importantly, forestry corruption contributes to deforestation, which in turn leads to soil erosion, with negative implications for soil quality and therefore food security. Women are primarily responsible for food production in many communities, and therefore struggle harder to do so when the soil is degraded. Soil erosion also pollutes fresh water supplies, which increased women’s burdens as women are responsible for fetching water.
Community forest management is dominated by men, because most forestry officers are male and because women’s role in forest user committees and community-based adaptation (to climate change) programmes is limited. The limited involvement of women and lack of attention to gender has led to anti-corruption interventions and forest conservation programmes that often end up disadvantaging women and hindering progress on forest conservation.
Yet, evidence shows that increasing women’s participation in community forestry institutions improves forest governance and the sustainability of resources. Communities with more women on their forest committees show better forest condition, and those with all-women committees showed better forest regeneration and canopy growth. Indeed, grass-roots women have long been involved in forest conservation and tree planting movements.
To participate effectively in the forestry sector, women need the experience, skills, and confidence to engage in the public sphere. A critical mass of women, enough to have meaningful influence, is attained when women make up at least 33% of forest committees. Of course, the goal should be to achieve gender parity in forestry governance.
Based on three factors mentioned above: (1) the proven co-relation between the number of women in public office and corruption control; (2) the dire implications of forestry corruption for women’s livelihoods; and (3) the fact that involving more women in forestry governance is strongly correlated with better forest conservation; we need a more integrated approach to gender, forestry, and corruption.
There are several avenues that development actors such as donors, governments, academics, and civil society organisations can pursue to promote a gender-sensitive approach to anti-corruption in the forestry sector. Firstly, we need more data on gender and forestry corruption, so governments should ensure the collection of gender-disaggregated data in this sector. They should also mandate gender parity in forestry governance. Donors should support government’s reform efforts in the sector. They should also support women’s forestry conservation NGOs to undertake corruption risk management in their programmes and understand corruption as a threat to gender equality. In addition, women’s NGOs working on corruption should consider focusing on forestry corruption due to its implications for climate change.