Women & Mangroves, all Work and No Recognition
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), based in
Washington, D.C., evaluated women's participation in the Cogtong
Bay Mangrove Management Project in the Philippines. Their findings
reveal a discouragingly familiar story: More than 50% of participants
in project activities were women, yet women received none of the
project's benefits, such as tenure over mangrove areas, membership
in associations and credit.
The mangrove project aimed to reduce the depletion of mangroves
in Cogtong Bay, located on the island of Bohol in the Philippines.
Mangroves and their related ecosystems, an important resource
for local communities, are threatened by overuse and misuse throughout
the world. In Cogtong Bay, mangrove stands are being depleted
by illegal fish-pond construction while the related marine resources
are declining due to overfishing, dynamiting (an illegal fishing
technique) and the violation of other resource protection laws.
The project attempted to provide incentives to individuals who
displayed capable resource management by providing 75-year leases
over mangrove areas and encouraging them to reforest their plots.
A Closer Look
In 1992, ICRW conducted a rapid rural appraisal (RRA) to determine
the extent of women's participation in conservation and natural
resource management. Data were collected over a three-week period
through semi-structured group interviews of women (and in some
cases men) in the local language at four project sites. Although
the evaluation team specifically requested that men not be present,
interviewing women alone proved impossible. Fortunately, the women
spoke out whether men were present or not. Sometimes the men provided
interesting insights, as men and women provided different responses
and attempted to explain the differences. The team cross-checked
answers given in group interviews through informal conversations
with project staff and with individuals outside the group setting.
Staff member responses indicated that they had never thought about
women's roles as separate from their husbands', even though half
of the key staff were women. In contrast, women community members
initially portrayed themselves as "wives assisting their
husbands," but quickly shifted to describe their roles as
individuals separate from their husbands. The RRA revealed the
following issues and concerns.
Women depend on natural resources for their livelihood and therefore
are concerned about the depletion of mangrove forests.
Women became involved in the project despite a lack of plans to
deliberately include women because they played active roles in
the social and economic life of the community and could see the
value of resource management in terms of their current and future
Women attended meetings, became officers of community organizations
set up by project staff, made decisions and undertook project
activities although no provision was made for them to become members
of these organizations. Project records do not show the extent
of women's participation because, even when women themselves attended
meetings, their attendance was registered under their husbands'
Women provided voluntary labor for planting and tending mangroves
and adopting mariculture techniques demonstrated by project staff.
Women were effectively excluded from project benefits such as
tenure, and formal membership in associations and credit.
The failure to award women individual tenure over mangrove plots
undermined a key strategy of the project, which was to use private
ownership as an incentive to encourage better mangrove management
Women wanted formal membership in associations so they could obtain
Women wanted to obtain mangrove tenure certificates in their own
names to use as collateral to secure credit. (One woman joked--we
think--that she would gladly offer her husband as collateral!)
The ICRW team reported four important lessons learned from the
Providing access and control of resources to male household heads
alone is not sufficient to ensure project success.
Project designers and implementers should include the views and
interests of women in all aspects of the project. Had this been
done in Cogtong Bay, project designers might have discovered early
on what women already knew, that illegal fishing could not be
controlled by the community because the wrongdoers were conspiring
with the law-enforcement officials. Women felt the project should
have focused on developing alternate economic activities that
did not rely on access to coastal resources.
Linking resource-management efforts to income-enhancing activities
that yield short-term results allows women to meet their economic
needs while pursuing the long-term goals of conservation and resource
Ignoring women's roles in project design and implementation can
result in significant missed opportunities.
The recommendations made by ICRW require small, but significant
changes in project implementation, no new resources, and are valuable
lessons that have wide applications for natural resource management
projects worldwide. However, at the time of the survey, project
activities had been temporarily suspended due to lack of funding.
Without consistent funding it is unrealistic to expect project
activities to continue in an area so resource-poor. If additional
funding, such as seed money, becomes available, some should be
earmarked for women. Considerable potential exists within the
community to use such funds productively in one or more activities
that combine resource management with income generation.
Mehra, R. et. al. 1993. Women's Participation in the Cogtong
Bay Mangrove Mgt. Project: A Case Study. Collaborative Research
Report, WWF and ICRW.
1717 Massachusetts Ave.
NW, Suite 302
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 797-0007
Fax: (202) 797-0020